There are limitations on storytelling when one is planning the end of all things. For a while now, the death of Hellboy and the coming Frog-pocalypse have been the main focus of the BPRD series. This, of course, draws every character’s attention away from the typical problems that would be faced down by a government bureau built to deal with the things which go bump in the night. That is where books like Hellboy and the BPRD 1954 are invaluable to those of us who love the world in a simpler time, when Nazis plotted to rule the world (again), demon monkey spirits inhabited little boys and the like. You know, the 1950s.
Hellboy and the BPRD 1954 covers four isolated stories in Hellboy’s past working as an agent of the BPRD. The first covers what, at first, appears to be nothing more than your standard mutant polar bear quickly turns into — hang on to your butts — secret, Hollow Earth Nazis building saucer-shaped UFOs in hopes of world domination. My fingers are clearly incapable of typing anything that could match the gloriousness of that sentence. While Indiana Jones may have grown old and his Nazis died off with the Reich, Hellboy’s Nazis are trying again and again to reclaim what once was theirs. Forget fighting the Red Menace — Nazis will always be where it’s at for abject villany.
The second story is much more personal and localized with the spirit of a recently killed man’s pet monkey haunting a family’s home. Seeing Hellboy’s gentler nature when he works with the young man to try and solve this deadly problem is a glimpse into why he is who he is throughout the comics. Dealing with personal relationships and their failings is a centerpiece to the legacy of Hellboy. The story has a bit of a CSI: BPRD vibe, but it works well, especially in the context of the repressed 1950s environment.
Story three brings Hellboy and squad to Singapore at the request of another secret-secret organization whose goal is the collection and safe storage of magical objects; sort of a Warehouse 13 without the jokes or purple goo. This story has perhaps my favorite panel in the book, where Chairman Mao stands among red leaves falling around his outstretched hand, turning into peasants on the march, refugees forced from their homes by the policies of the Communist Chinese government. Including the famed Kowloon Walled City as the setting gives a feel of the reality of the situation in the slums of Singapore while still presenting enough fantastical elements to make a walking demon seem normal. The fight over the spirit jar is actually less important than the effects of closing off its power from the man who stole it. Having the guardians of the gates of Hell, Ox-Head and Horse-Face, arrive to retrieve the souls stolen is another nod to the cultural awareness that the Hellboy team has always strived to maintain.
The final story is the shortest of the lot and shows another important part of Hellboy’s personality and drive. He is driven to discover and defeat evil, regardless of personal cost. While he is drawn to a cursed mirror and attacked by ghosts and demons trapped during pre-Revolutionary France, he will not be deterred from what he sees as his duty. The witch leading him through the ruined castle sees who he is and what will happen to him should he continue on his path. Like any good tragedy, this one can end at any time. Hellboy can walk away and simply allow the world to end. To his dying breath, however, he will never give up. That is his greatest strength and greatest failing.
I adore these one-shots. Honestly, fill my days with tales of Hellboy-past, where frog monsters are but a wisp in the future. With four different artists in the book, not to mention the cover and chapter break artists, every page still feels like a Hellboy book in the Mignola style from cover to cover. Think we can hold off the apocalypse for a while and just go back to the good-old-Nazi-punching days?