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Pretty much everyone knows and loves Mike Mignola’s Hellboy.  This is the first BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) trade paperback set in the Hellboy universe (and, of course, closely linked with Hellboy’s own story).  After Hellboy quit BPRD, the other field agents — most of whom also have paranormal abilities of their own — continue to be sent on missions.  In many ways, I think the publication of the first BPRD books was a test to see if books set in the Hellboy universe without the presence of Hellboy himself would sell.  If so, the experiment worked, because there are now (as of late 2010) thirteen BPRD collected editions and counting!
This book collects stories from the following single issues: Hellboy: Box Full of Evil #1-2; Abe Sapien: Drums of the Dead; BPRD: Hollow Earth #1-3; and Dark Horse Extra.  It contains the following stories: Hollow Earth; The Killer in My Skull; Abe Sapien Versus Science; and Drums of the Dead.
I will provide some brief discussion of each of the stories in this edition.  These discussions contain spoilers.  Read on at your own peril!
Hollow Earth: Half the book is taken up with this first story, and it’s a very strong one.  It also includes a three-page teaser from the Dark Horse Extra.  The story follows Liz to Tibet, who went there in an attempt to finally gain control over her power.  She has been kidnapped and her soul/spirit is being used as a living battery for some strange Hyperborean creatures (like Morlocks) from deep within the earth.  They are trying to resurrect one of their ancient leaders and his war machines, presumably to rise up against the surface world.  The story introduces the character of Johann Kraus, a physical medium whose own body has been destroyed.  Johann interacts with our world through ectoplasm, which he can extrude through a pretty cool-looking suit.  It also includes a nice flashback to how Liz and Hellboy became friends when she was first brought to BPRD as a very troubled young woman.
The Killer in My Skull: The first Lobster Johnson tale.  A short but good pulp adventure.  The Lobster fights a mutant brain that tries to strangle him with the attached spinal cord.  If that last sentence sounds fun, you’ll enjoy this story.
Abe Sapien Versus Science: Short tale where Abe saves Roger from being vivisected by BPRD scientists (who had also tried something similar to Abe himself).  He is able to wake Roger up from his “comatose” state, thus bringing Roger onto the team.  Not much substance here, but not bad.
Drums of the Dead: Abe and a religious psychic named Garrett who can detect spirits are sent out aboard a ship that has been plagued by some strange occurrences.  The story itself was a good one — very reminiscent of a stand-alone Hellboy story from the “good old days;” the art was very bad.  The artist was Derek Thompson, and his style is very different from that used by Mike Mignola and Guy Davis.  I found it jarring and distracting from the story itself.  Other readers’ reactions to his art may be much more positive than mine.
If you enjoy the Hellboy formula and setting, and don’t mind trying a book without the active presence of Hellboy himself, I highly recommend this one.
Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers