Saturday, November 14, 2009

Review: BPRD The Garden of Souls

This graphic novel, written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi, and illustrated by Guy Davis, continues the story of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense that began in Mignola's Hellboy comics. Hellboy hasn't appeared in the BPRD comics for a while now. Instead we get Hellboy's former compatriots, the amphibious humanoid Abe Sapien, the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, and bodiless medium Johann Krauss.

By this point in the BPRD series (Garden of Souls is the 7th graphic novel), Captain Benjamin Daimo (a horribly scarred marine who returned from the dead in a mysterious fashion) and occult specialist Kate Corrigan are also on the team. For those keeping score, the homunculus Roger is dead at this point.

Anyway, this story involves Abe Sapien following mysterious messages about his past life as the occult dilettante Langdon Everett Caul. He brings Daimo with him to Indonesia, where he ultimately ends up at a strange little outpost of Victorian mad scientists who walk around inside these extremely cool looking robot suits (they look something like the helmet of an old diving suit, complete with portals, to which mechanical arms and legs in odd proportions are attached).

These fellows, who belong to something called the Oannes Society, are holding hostage a psychic Egyptian mummy named Panya who was apparently resurrected in the 1800s and has been walking the Earth since then. Of course the Oannes Society also has a crackpot scheme that involves triggering massive tsunamis that will kill many of the people in Southeast Asia, whose souls will then be absorbed by these artificial bodies the mad scientists have constructed for themselves, so that they will become godlike as a result.

I won't spoil the story in terms of how the bad guys get defeated or what Abe learns about his past. It's all rather confusing.

The things I liked:
  • The robotic suits worn by the Victorians are really, really cool looking. Guy Davis does an amazing job of drawing in Mignola's style.
  • The backstory of Panya the mummy is actually really interesting, at least the flashbacks to her life in the 1800s after she is brought back and becomes something of a celebrity in certain circles, only to be sequestered and then forgotten.
  • There is some nicely creepy stuff involving a message being sent via a young girl.
The things that were less satisfying:
  • I could not for the life of me figure out why a pseudo-scientific cult of Victorians whose interests seem to revolve around ancient sea gods would want to keep prisoner a mummy from a desert country who has no apparent link to the sea. At all.
  • Supposedly this reveals how and why Abe got transformed from Caul into his fishy form. And it does. Sort of. But not in a very satisfying way. And there's a very clear disconnect between the personality of Caul and that of Abe and no real explanation as to why he's so different now.
  • After a while all the weird occult societies and their various plots start to blur together.
Still, it's an entertaining story with some nice visual designs and solid storytelling.

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