While the first bulky Plague of Frogs collection was perfectly entertaining and offered a variety of creators the opportunity to dabble with the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence cast, only in the final outing did it begin to address the story that will occupy this and the next two volumes. And there was no John Arcudi. Although other creators have worked on the gothic horror that is B.P.R.D., Arcudi and Guy Davis are the A-team, and the big plots kick off here. Mike Mignola is still credited as a writer, and that’s by way of determining the bigger picture, within which Arcudi constructed his own supernatural mysteries.

As Davis’ sample art shows, the frog plague wasn’t entirely dealt with in Volume 1, and the consequences of that failure are becoming apparent, with infestations spreading. In what was published as The Dead in slimmer paperback form, Arcudi rings the changes, moving the B.P.R.D. headquarters to a base within a remote Colorado mountain that conceals secrets of its own despite decades of disuse, and broadens the cast. They may have uncanny talents, but most B.P.R.D. agents aren’t proactive types, which new addition, former military man Ben Daimyo most assuredly is. Not everything about him is revealed, but distinctive facial scarring provides Davis with a consistently disturbing visual effect. As most of the cast explore their new base more thoroughly than intended, Abe Sapien is carried back to his former life, and that’s also chilling.

Many situations the B.P.R.D. face are down to the Nazis of World War II, as Mignola and Arcudi exploit their alleged supernatural obsessions. As dabblers rather than fully qualified mystics, they achieved some success, but the legacy of their failures is sustained, and often explored during the series, as in what was The Black Flame in slimmer paperback form. This is more the action thriller than the spooky mystery, but is here resequenced to incorporate a run of one-off stories originally designed to allow Davis more time to draw the series, and previously collected as War on Frogs. In the event, he draws one, and inks another, as the B.P.R.D. agents accompanied by ordinanced back-up head off on separate missions to wipe out locations infested by the frog creatures. Because Davis is so associated with the visual approach, even great artists like John Severin and Peter Snejbjerg look out of place when dealing respectively with Abe Sapien and Johan’s missions, while Davis inking Herb Trimpe as Roger heads underwater is an uncomfortable compromise. When Liz Sherman takes centre stage, Karl Moline is interesting, midway between Davis and Mignola with both layouts and style. They make for an interesting batch of stories, with the best of them Davis drawing Daimyo at a revival meeting.

Unlike other series with a cast of what are in effect super powered people, B.P.R.D. take casualties. They prompt genuine shock, as unlike the superhero drawing the short straw in Marvel’s annual crossover, they don’t return, although may feature in untold tales of the past. Their replacements are always as intriguing, and it’s during ‘The Black Flame’ that this first occurs. This is a great story, and the best sample of the entire series, occurring before the mythology deepens. It’s a thriller in several other respects, from Daimyo’s abrasive personality disrupting a team that previously rubbed along to Liz’s unsettling dreams.

Plague of Frogs 1 was good, but this is better, and Plague of Frogs 3 is better still.