An old German woman hobbles along to lead Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (of Hellboy fame) and his military convoy to her barn. “ I beg of you,” pleads the woman as she sets the door ajar. “Please don’t take from me what little of my world remains.” The doors swing open to reveal the grotesque being with narrow yellow eyes that is her son.
The year, as you may have guessed, is 1946. The Second World War is over. The Soviet Union, United States and Britain occupy Germany. As the Professor walks into the barn to meet this strange creature, he begins to uncover the unfathomable atrocities of the Nazi war machine. Not just the systematic killing of Jews, homosexuals, dissidents, and the mentally unstable, but the scientific experiments made upon them.
The noir, magic realist tale opens with the Professor Trevor Bruttenholm investigating a supposedly abandoned asylum in Berlin. With the help of an eerily adorable little Russian girl named Varvara, they uncover the secret Nazi project Vampir Sturm that was enacted upon the mentally ill. A thirst for blood and psychological instability makes for one hell of foe!
Essentially, B.P.R.D 1946 is a back-story for the Professor. Rather than, as he will later in life, sending Hellboy or others out on missions, here he’s on his own. We, therefore, see a more intimate side of him. While sitting in a bar after his first venture into the asylum, the Professor inquires about his convoy’s sergeant and his life before the war, displaying his intrigue in individual people as well as the paranormal. Moreover, he also exhibits his often overlooked bravery as when he goes down into the asylum’s lower levels unnerved by the ghosts of the insane crawling up and down the walls.
Mignola and Dysart also weave this creepy story about the Nazi scientific rationalism and age-old monsters around a number of heart-felt secondary characters. The old German woman with the grotesque son, a Russian solider wanting to find nice plump girl to marry, and an American officer wishing he could be back in the States playing music for girls, provide a sincere affection that counters the grim terror.
Of all the monsters that skulk and haunt the asylum, it is shadow of the gruesome and callous actions of the Nazis that is the most terrifying. At one point, the Professor is asked what is more appalling: the monsters or the men who made them?
Azaceta’s pencils capture these noir and murky aspects of the story while keeping the paranormal activity on a level of reality that is less fantasy is more magic realism. Ghosts and vampires appear in the realistic setting of an American/Soviet occupied post-war Germany without question. This world is enveloped in darkness, with humanity and undead meeting in the meager light of the moon.
Overall, B.P.R.D. 1946 is an expertly executed macabre chronicle that gets darker and darker with each issue.
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