Top of the Pile: Summer 2017

My Summer Reading List for 2017 included eight graphic novels drawn from the Hellboy universe. Hellboy and his friends have featured prominently in my summer reading list for the last decade, and I expect that to continue to be the case going forward. There’s nothing quite like reading a Hellboy or B.P.R.D. graphic novel by the camp fire on Lake Champlain, and it’s not an experience I’d want to lose.

That said … eight was probably too many. It’s nice to be able to make some significant progress on the B.P.R.D. storyline, but I had more graphic novels than I had time to read them, and I actually ended up bringing back Hellboy vol. 10 from vacation unread. Having eight Hellboy-centric graphic novels also prevented me from adding graphic novels from other titles to the list; I had X-Men: No More Humans and a Predator  graphic novel keyed up, but no time to read them.

Hellboy in Hell

Hellboy in Hell, Volume 2: Death Card (Amazon)  was surprising, mostly because I’d expected the whole “In Hell” series to go on longer than it did. I was thinking we’d see at least one more volume depicting Hellboy’s exploration of the afterlife, but clearly author and artist Mike Mignola wasn’t interested in telling those stories. Instead, the book reaches an unexpectedly sudden conclusion. I’ll need to re-read Volume 1 and Volume 2, but my initial response was … that’s it?

The namesake story for Hellboy, Volume 10: The Crooked Man and Others (Amazon) features Hellboy in Appalachian country facing off against the Crooked Man and his witch servants. It’s a classic Hellboy tale steeped in American folklore and a worthwhile read.

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth 

I’ve long enjoyed the horror comic feel of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense graphic novels. It’s clearly a throw back to the horror titles of the 1940s and 1950s, but the monster-a-week nature of the original B.P.R.D. run has given way to end-of-day kaiju that have ravaged most of the Earth. The  bureau finds itself up against supernatural superbeasts that our best conventional weapons — and even our nuclear ones — may not be able to bring down.

It’s a desperate time and the series has settled into a routine of telling small stories within that ongoing armageddon punctuated with climatic events that shatter the Earth again.

B.P.R.D Hell on Earth, Volume 10: The Devils Wings (Amazon) splits the difference with a tale of possession within the B.P.R.D. headquarters while giant monsters run amok in Japan. This felt like a throwback to the old B.P.R.D., with a the diminished crew struggling to understand an arcane mystery.

B.P.R.D Hell On Earth, Volume 11: Flesh and Stone (Amazon) focuses on Howard, a B.P.R.D. agent who was a prehistoric mystical warrior in a prior life. In the present he wields the same magical sword that he did in the past, and he’s proven to be a one-man monster slaying machine. Flesh and Stone alternates between that past, in which he hunts down horrors that are devastating the natural balance of the land, and the present, in which monsters have overrun Colorado. The book has a Conan the Barbarian vibe to it that I enjoyed and its genre mashup served it well.

B.P.R.D Hell On Earth Volume 12 : Metamorphosis (Amazon) is Johann Kraus’ tale. The B.P.R.D. agent with a body of ectoplasm has been growing increasingly lonely over the last few years, with first Hellboy and then Abe Sapien leaving the team. He’s clearly feeling like an outsider and his authoritarian, intellectual leadership style often leads to conflict with the teams he leads (as does his tendency to accidentally get those teams killed). In this book he finally finds a way to make him self useful by discovery a new suit of armor that can replace his “gas bag” containment suit. The tie-in to World War II era supernatural war was well done, and

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth Volume 13: End of Days (Amazon) continues the catastrophe in New York City, where the resurgent Black Flame rules. The books

Abe Sapien

Abe Sapien Volume 3: Dark and Terrible and the New Race of Man (Amazon) takes place after the start of the apocalypse in the B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth storyline. Both stories follow Abe as he investigates the strange cults that arise in the wake of giant monsters rampaging across the planet’s surface. They’re ok stories — not nearly as haunting and creepy as what we saw in Volume 1, but it fills us in on what Abe’s been doing during this time period.

Lobster Johnson

Lobster Johnson Volume 2: The Burning Hand (Amazon) offers more of the same Lobster Johnson action, now expanded to include his own Scooby Gang of assistants and a bonafide secret lair. He’s up against an occult gang known as the Burning Hand which has ties to long-time villain the Black Flame.

It’s got everything you’d expect from a homage to 1930s mystery men, including hard-boiled investigations, mobsters, and Lobster Johnson himself, a proto-Batman-style avenger. The title built nicely on Volume 1, and it provides some nice inspiration for my Weird Pulp campaign for Savage Worlds.

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