B.P.R.D.: Being Human: Early cases

B.P.R.D.: Being Human by Mike Mignola (writer) & various other writers and artists

B.P.R.D. Being Human by Mike Mignola B.P.R.D.: Being Human is a collection of short stories about the early years of B.P.R.D.:

The first story, “The Dead Remembered,” takes place in 1976, and the Professor decides to do some rare fieldwork to investigate a haunting. He asks Hellboy to accompany him, but Hellboy, not partial to ghosts, declines, and the professor ends up taking a young Liz Sherman, who has pyrokinetic abilities. This is the first time she goes into the field for any type of investigation. While the story does deal with the haunting, it is really about Liz and her wrestling with her powers. We get flashbacks to her as a child and the critical moment of her childhood that is often referenced in other Hellboy stories: The day Liz lost control of her newly-revealed powers and killed her entire family. In the present of 1976, Liz reluctantly takes her pills but feels too controlled by the Professor, who even admonishes her for sneaking out at night with a local boy who ends up being with Liz when she confronts the ghost. This is one of my favorite stories because of its focus on Liz in telling her coming-of-age.

“Casualties” takes place in 1981. Liz and Abe Sapien are out with another B.P.R.D. agent who is more vulnerable, because he doesn’t have any extra powers like Liz and Abe. When he almost gets killed, Abe blames himself. There’s not much to this short short story, but we get an important conversation between Liz and Abe as they discuss their responsibility to those who die around them when they are out in the field.

In “Being Human,” it’s the year 2000, and we look in on Roger, who is being observed at the B.P.R.D. headquarters. Roger is a homunculus from the fifteenth century who came to life when Liz, in another story, accidentally filled him with her fire, almost dying in the process (see Hellboy: Wake the Devil). Roger, who may or may not be “alive” in some senses, is certainly sentient and enjoying the life that he has been given. When we see him, he is being observed in a room with a reciprocal mirror. Roger, seemingly not bothered about being observed, sits silently and reads Of Mice and Men. Hellboy asks and gets permission to take Roger out into the field to handle what is supposed to be an easy case: A family of four skeletons keep walking out of their crypt to sit down at the dinner table of their rundown old house. Their uncovering of the secret is less important than that the events that take place cause Roger and Hellboy to discuss the nature of being human. It’s another solid story, though not quite as good as “The Dead Remembered.”

“The Ectoplasmic Man” is about Johann Kraus, another eventual member of the B.P.R.D. In this story, we find out how he became the ectoplasmic man in 2002. Kraus was a medium who helped family members contact their loved ones in the afterworld. The séance goes wrong, and Kraus, while out of his body, is killed along with the family in the room with him. He contemplates dissipating, but a member of the B.P.R.D., a psychic who can see the spirit of Kraus, encourages him to consider what good he can do for lingering spirits, helping them on to the beyond so they do not stay attached to the world and their former lives. When Kraus encounters an inhuman threat to the newly dead, he decides to commit himself to a new mission as an agent of the B.P.R.D. This comic is a great origin story.

Being Human is a must-read for Hellboy fans. It offers us a chance to get to know better Hellboy’s main teammates at the B.P.R.D. With the exception of the short “Casualties,” this volume’s stories are well-developed character studies of the core B.P.R.D. agents who are going out on their first missions. But still, “Casualties” fits the overall feel of the collection since it, too, gives us a chance to know what personal worries concern one of the agents. This volume is a solid five stars, and since it features early cases of the best-known B.P.R.D. agents, it should be one of the first Hellboy comics you read.


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BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Read Brad's series on HOW TO READ COMICS.

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