B.P.R.D.: Being Human is an eclectic collection of four miniseries featuring members of the B.P.R.D.. The stories are unconnected except thematically; each member of the B.P.R.D. is a monster in their own way. They are essentially monsters battling monsters. And so each of them has to look inside themselves to decide if they are, after all, human.
All four stories are brilliant in their own way. Mike Mignola has a talent for empathizing with the monster. He can take the most gruesome scene, the most horrifying visage, and get the reader to care about the beast. And there is horror here. Good horror. Better horror than you will find in most modern horror films. Both The Dead Remembered and Being Human have terrifying ghosts. And the horror is made all the more beautiful for the humanity that Mignola and company inject into the grave.
After all, without that essential spark of life the dead are just corpses and make for poor entertainment.
The Dead Remembered
Story: Mike Mignola, Scott Allie
Art: Karl Moline, Jo Chen
This is one of the most long-awaited stories in the B.P.R.D. universe, and one that I never thought we would get to see. We have known since her introduction that at some time in her tragic past Liz Sherman burned her whole family and killed many people. Finally, in The Dead Remembered, we get to see how it happened.
Wrapped up in her origin story, we get the adventures of "Lil' Liz" and the (younger) Professor Bruttenholm. After two years in confinement at the B.P.R.D., Professor Bruttenholm decided it was time to take Liz out on an outing, and in true Bruttenholm style he brings her to a ghost-haunted small town where the spirit of a woman executed for witchcraft seeks revenge against all priests whom she blames for her murder.
Everyone did a great job on this story. I especially appreciated the art of Karl Moline and Jo Chen, and how they juxtaposed the cute innocence of Lil' Liz with the blood-dripping witch-ghost. I also enjoyed the little easter eggs — like Liz reading a copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland, of the scene of her using her powers to light a cigarette for the first time, or her failed first kiss. Storywise, Mignola and Allie really played on my own expectations and prejudices about Henry Hood and Cotton Mather. There is a lot going on in this story, and all of it good.
Story: Mike Mignola, Scott Allie
Art: Guy Davis
In Casualties, we have an older, more confident Liz Sherman leading a raid on a werewolf den with Abe Sapien and a human B.P.R.D. officer named Vaughn. Both Liz and Abe are acutely aware that it is always the human members of a team that don't come back and both of them are tired of standing over the bodies of human cannon fodder while the monsters survive.
This was the shortest story in the collection, but possibly the most poignant. There isn't much action; just Liz and Abe talking about what it is they do, and why they do it. And why fragile creatures like Vaughn would ever sign up for the duty knowing full well they probably won't make it back from a mission.
Guy Davis's art is always welcome, and the somber tone of the story was mirrored by the art and Dave Stewart's colors.
Story: Mike Mignola
Art: Richard Corben
This story could just as easily have appeared in a Hellboy collection instead of a B.P.R.D. collection, but it fits right in with the theme of the book. The story goes back in time, before the death of Roger the Homunculus, and sends them both into the bayous for Roger's first field mission.
This is just a fantastic story. Mignola and Corben have their rhythm down and work as a team, and Mignola knows how to write to Corben's strengths as an artist. The story is classic Southern horror, with a child from a hidden bloodline coming back to deliver her revenge on those long dead. There are some brilliant and subtle touches, like the Hand of Glory not affecting Roger which reinforces that he is less human than the Beast of the Apocalypse. Both Mignola and Corben get it right that in a horror story like this, far scarier than the walking dead are the humans who command them.
The Ectoplasmic Man
Story: Mike Mignola, John Arcudi
Art: Ben Stenbeck
If there is a lesser story in this collection, then this is it. There is nothing particularly wrong with it, other than a lack of history. I have seen Ben Stenbeck's art in later series and it is spectacular, but here he is still getting a feel for working with Mignola and the B.P.R.D. universe. And while Johann Krauss is a fascinating character, he lacks the emotional crunch of Liz Sherman or Roger the Homunculus. He is a little too academic, too removed from his new condition.
The Ectoplasmic Man is an origin story for Johann Kraus, telling how he became his current incarnation, a wispy form of ectoplasm trapped in a containment suit. A medium trapped between this world and the next, he finds a way to compensate for his dead state and learns how to affect the world of the living. There are some really nice moments in this story, and I loved the amoral nature of Kraus's antagonist.
B.P.R.D.: Being Human is a fantastic showcase of what the Mignola universe is all about. Even if you aren't a regular reader of the series, there is enough here to serve as an introduction and a lure to draw you deeper into a place where the dead walk the Earth with alarming regularity and where the Beast of the Apocalypse is mankind's best hope.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.