3 out of 5
An entertaining hodgepodge of early B.P.R.D. and B.P.R.D. adjacent bits and bobs, everything here is pretty far from what it would become – the sprawling teamwork adventures of the titular crew; LoJo’s two-fisted noir spins; Abe’s grittier solo tales – but is also important for any Mignolaverse reader as it offers up important groundwork for all that follows.
In the B.P.R.D.-starring Hollow Earth by Christopher Golden, Hellboy’s Africa sabbatical (happening over in the Hellboy books) is grounds for Abe, Roger, and newly-drafted Johann to try to track down a kidnapped Liz, who helpfully sends a flame-spirited messenger Abe’s way to start him on the path. Liz’s perpetually sought-after powers; Abe’s forever wishes to leave the agency; Johann’s reticence toward being a field agent; Kate’s struggles between wanting to get involved and being a B.P.R.D. diplomat; Hyperborean stuff; the King of Fear: all get face time here. However, no one on the creative staff could really know what all that would mean for the future, so the story comes across as rather slight and typical, with Liz in her frustratingly-repeated damsel role.
Two short backups from single issues are included: Lobster Johnson’s first appearance, which is much more sci-fi horror than spooky crime, and Roger’s transition from out of tank and on to the team, echoing – in the narrative – Abe’s experiences as a test subject. We also then get the first Abe Sapien one-shot, which shorts the character his more internal narrative bents for a mystery creature feature. It’s fun, with good monster a’drawins by Derek Thompson, but again, it doesn’t really sync with how we would later come to know Abe.
Ryan Sook’s art on Hollow Earth very much set a Mignolaverse precedent: draw like the boss. Excepting the lack of cutaway tone-setting panels, the two draw very similarly; sketches in the back suggest how Ryan added angles and shadows to his style to make it work. Later era books would allow the artists more leeway, but I’m sure Mike had a tight hold on the reins at the start.