Big Red’s name may be in the title, but he’s almost an afterthought in this volume. That’s because it’s all about exploring what else was going on with the B.P.R.D. during his ill-fated trip to Mexico. Margaret is busy running the day-to-day operations of the organization while Professor Bruttenholm has secrets kept from him by the U.S. government and keeps secrets from his clairvoyant operative Susan. She’s upset about it because her visions involve apocalyptic disaster by a familiar-looking little girl who was photographed hanging around with the Professor in WWII. Speaking of Varvarra, she’s still at large in Russia’s Special Sciences Service running things according to her whims. Whims which the human members of the SSS and Russia’s government have finally reached their tolerance for.
Given all this, and the fact that this is the last “yearly” “B.P.R.D.” story to come from co-writer Chris Roberson (for now), I was expecting something a bit more climactic than what we got. All “1956” winds up being is a lot of fancy window dressing on a bunch of plot points that weren’t screaming out to be elaborated on. We all knew Varvarra wound up confined in a jar in Russia for decades, and seeing how it happens here doesn’t really add much to that. Neither does seeing Bruttenholm stumble across the future home of the B.P.R.D. or his efforts to keep the truth from Susan. Oh, and as for Hellboy’s time in Mexico? It adds up to a few amusing asides that don’t really go anywhere. If this is the last “yearly” “B.P.R.D.” story then it’s a lazy and indulgent way to wrap things up.
Which is too bad because the three artists who worked on it deserve better. Especially Mike Oeming, who handles the Russia sequences and gives them an appealingly surreal look thanks to his inimitable style. Yishan Li does solid work with the heavy-handed foreshadowing of Susan’s sequences, while Mike Norton continues to impress me with how far he’s come since the early days of “Revival” when it comes to dealing with the supernatural. That’s especially true in the “Hellboy vs. Lobster Johnson: The Ring of Death” one-shot included here where he does his best to enliven a story with exactly one joke.