Since its inception, Dark Horse’s continuing string of miniseries starring the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense — themselves a component of Mike Mignola’s larger Hellboy mythology — has made a name for itself by making lasting changes to the lives of its characters. In the world of the B.P.R.D., heroes are broken, battles are lost and lives end. And it seems that in the new year, another change is headed to the team — this one a wrinkle in the physical life of one of the core characters.
CBR News has learned exclusively that in February, the next miniseries in the B.P.R.D. story cycle will introduce a new uniform and outlook for the team’s resident bodyless medium Johann Kraus. The suit debuts on the cover to “B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth: The Long Death” #1 and is born as a direct result of the current “Hell On Earth: Russia” series, whose second issue just hit stores.
“With any luck, we’re exploring Johann in more depth,” series co-writer John Arcudi told CBR. “He’s been struggling with some powerful demons lately, which have encouraged him to look into the more aggressive side of his nature. This was something that began in earnest in ‘The Black Goddess’ and we’re going to pick some of those things up in ‘The Long Death.'”
As with most of the visual components of the Hellboy universe, Johann’s new look started on the drawing table of Mignola [NOTE: Mignola posted on his Facebook page that the beginnings of the designs started with former “B.P.R.D.” artist Guy Davis. CBR regrets the error.] However, this time the final version came at the hands of recent “Hellboy” artist Duncan Fegredo, who’s sticking with the overarching mythos in the months ahead on projects like an incoming “Dark Horse Presents” story and the covers to “The Long Death.” The artist explained his role in the redesign, saying, “My job for this cover was more about interpreting Mike’s sketch, making decisions about what sort of materials composed the elements of the new suit and how best to showcase it. The cover design itself came very quickly and almost fully formed, I wanted to show the contrast between Johann and the landscape. It’s a whole ‘stranger in a strange land’ thing; [Johann] could be an astronaut on an alien world or an alien on ours. It kind of sums up Johann himself as existing between two states of being.”
Speaking of which, Arcudi promised that the visual change-up will be built on the current events of the comic — particularly January’s fifth and final issue of “Russia,” where Johann and Kate’s investigation with the Russian Occult Bureau causes the former character to land in a rather rough predicament. “It should help us understand how important life is to Johann — specifically his own life, which he has not been able to live in a long, long time,” Arcudi said of the change. “What exactly he’s willing to give up to actually live again is a question that we play with in ‘Russia’ and then again in future series. These ideas seem naturally important to me (the guy’s a ghost in a bag and obviously would rather not be, you know?), and, just as naturally, they will bring about some pretty big changes for Johann. Visible, lasting changes as well as more subtle changes.
“We wanted Johann to be more comfortable in his new suit,” the writer added. “There should be elbows and knees in it, and even knuckles. That, and it had to make sense in the context of the story in ‘Russia,’ but I’d rather not say more than that for folks who haven’t seen [it].”
As readers wait to see how the storylines of the series unfold, Arcudi noted that the parallel plotline of newer team member Devon’s hunt for Fenix will “only synch-up [with Kate and Johann] in the sense that it will put all the players in place for the next phase of the B.P.R.D. storyline” and that “Long Death” overall “builds directly on Johann’s transformation in ‘Russia.’ His goals in this book are bred of a newfound confidence, but also of a long-held ambition. The series also beefs up a couple of the ‘normal’ agents roles as well. We don’t just want a bunch of red shirts parading through these pages. That’s really important for the book, if you ask me. It gives it depth and believability.”
For his part, Fegredo is happy to be a regular fixture in that believable, if unbelievable, sci-fi world. “It’s a blast, being able to work on the B.P.R.D. covers,” the artist said. “I’ve been a fan of the book since the beginning and I still am. Tyler is doing a terrific job stepping into the rather large and daunting shoes that belonged to Guy Davis for so long, a situation I can vividly relate to!”