The second wave of Hellboy figures was announced in summer 2005. However, Mezco didn't get them into stores until early October 2006. The company has never explicitly stated the reason for the wait; however, it's probably fair to assume that on a line of this high quality, production and cost issues were probably involved.
In any event, the wait is over. The second wave of Mezco's comic-based Hellboy line comprises four figures: Hellboy w/ jetpack (a.k.a. Rocket Hellboy); an Alien; Roger the homunculus; and this fellow here, disembodied spiritualist known as Johann Kraus.
Johann Kraus first appeared in a brief miniseries titled simply "BPRD" [sic], which ran in Dark Horse Extra. It was later made available as a web comic. Johann is a "genuine physical medium" who can manifest his body's spiritual essence as ectoplasm and project it into the ethereal plane. While performing a séance one day, there was an enormous psychic accident in China half a world away that sent a catastrophic shockwave through the ethereal plane and destroyed Johann's body, leaving him trapped as an ectoplasmic spirit.
A brief note on the packaging - like the first wave, it features original art by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, colored by frequent Mignola collaborator Dave Stewart. The general graphic design is pleasing to the eye and evocative of Hellboy with its bright reds and thick blacks. Other than that, it's clamshell and has twisty ties and whatnot. The usual.
So what happened after Johann was torn from his body?
The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence (B.P.R.D.) found him and devised a special containment suit, complete with bubble head. Johann then joined the Bureau; the B.P.R.D., it seems, is not unlike OSI from The Six Million Dollar Man - they'll fix you, but then they own you. Johann joined shortly after Hellboy left the Bureau, so they've never actually met, which makes him an even more interesting addition to the Hellboy toy line. That said, he has an interesting visual design, which is more than enough to warrant his place alongside freaks like Roger and Kriegaffe #10. Who doesn't love bubble heads?
Like the first wave and the Hellboy movie line,
the sculpting for Hellboy Series 2 was done by Dave Cortes. If anything, the sculpting on Series 2 seems to be even better than Series 1. Johann has the blocky, rough-edged look of Mignola's art, though with much more detail than Mignola tends to use these days. Despite the fact that Mezco has said Mignola specifically requested that the figures be based on his art alone, I do think there's a smidgen of regular B.P.R.D. artist Guy Davis in the sculpt (moreso in Roger). This makes sense - Davis has probably drawn Johann many more times than Mignola has at this point, so he's had some hand in the character's visual look. Johann's hands are perhaps a bit too large, but otherwise the sculpting is superb.
Of course, a sculpt can often be compromised by bad paint apps. This is usually one place where Mezco has no trouble, and the first Hellboy series (as well as the movie figures) were a perfect example of that. However, there seems to be a very slight drop in quality with this wave. There's some overspill on the silver of Johann's fingertips, for instance, and I don't like the glossy black paint they used for his boots.
And then there's the bubble head. There was a lot of back-and-forth about this among fans on the Mezco forums when the "clear" head was revealed at Toy Fair. Some fans thought the completely clear bulb made sense, others wanted one that had a translucent white look a la Mysterio. I was in favor of the clear head, which is how Johann looks these days in B.P.R.D.. Inexplicably, what we got was a yellow/brown-tinted head. I don't know whose decision this was - for all I know, it may have been Mignola's - but I have to say I would have liked to see a variant clear version.
Mezco's usually very good about articulation, and Johann is no exception. We've got balljoints at the neck, shoulders and hips. Some fans have said they would have preferred the upper thigh swivel joints found on Lobster Johnson, as well, but I actually prefer the way the legs are on Johann. They're not as ugly-looking, and it's not as if Johann needs to contort himself into any particularly difficult positions. He's also got hinged knees, elbows and ankles, and swivel biceps, waist and wrists.
Finally, there are the accessories. Johann comes with four hands: two normal hands and two with ectoplasmic projections.
The ectoplasm looks great (here the yellowish-brownish color choice works fine). The projections are translucent and, importantly, they're light enough that Johann's arm articulation can hold them up in any position without trouble. I particularly like the right hand, where the ectoplasm is shaped like fingers at the end. The only complaint I have about the accessories is that Johann has an empty holster but no gun to put into it. On the other hand, his "normal" hand, with its thick fingers, probably wouldn't be able to hold the gun.
The second Hellboy line runs for about $15 each, which is no chump change in today's market. At the same time, I'll point out that you're actually getting more here than a DC Direct figure (more articulation, more accessories, equitable sculpt) for about the same price. Of course, Hellboy isn't quite as well-known or popular as Batman, and Mezco has yet to release a mass-market version of Hellboy in his iconic trenchcoat look to anchor the line. The fans over at the Mezco forums are quite nervous we won't see series 3, which is to consist of Abe Sapien, the Ghost of Rasputin, a Frog Monster and an "Anung un Rama" Hellboy. Mezco has implied that sales of series 2 will determine whether we see a series 3. Of course, it would be absolutely criminal to end the line without at least giving us an Abe Sapien. Fingers crossed.
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