For the blog’s very first fiction review I’m going to tackle one of my favorite writers in the comic book medium of all time: Mike Mignola. The creator of Hellboy (his most well known and commercial property), as well as a score of other endlessly striking characters and storylines, and all set within the same setting of seemingly constant occult and monstrous incursion that has come to be known as, “The Mignolaverse”. This setting spans whole eras in time, focusing on characters who were active in the 1800’s (Sir Edward Grey), 1940’s (Lobster Johnson), and onwards (Hellboy, B.P.R.D, etc.). Mike Mignola has become comics royalty through his unyielding imagination in forging this ever developing world of supernatural investigation in a way that differs from any other title in the same vein. Mignola not only brings with him a wholly unique art style when he occupies the artist’s chair, but is a fountain of knowledge and literary inspiration that draws from real world folklore, myths, legends, as well as countless other authors and fiction works of various eras. Lovecraft, Poe, Howard, the old pulps. Nothing is safe from Mignola’s reach!
Released in 2008 by Dark Horse Comics, ‘The Drowning’ is the very first trade paperback collecting the first mini arc that focuses solely on one of Hellboy’s closest companions and one of the B.P.R.D’s top agents, Abraham Sapien. The story focuses on Sapien’s first ever solo mission as he is deployed out to an isolated fishing town a fair ways off the coast of France. In conversation with his mentor and father figure, Professor Broom, Abe is told he is to seek out an old shipwreck detailed in one of Sir Edward Grey’s old journals (a comics character in his own right), one that is said to contain a mythic dagger of untold power and magic potency. And so, accompanied by several other B.P.R.D field agents, Abe sets out for the fishing village on what is set to be a simple ‘in and out’ retrieval mission, though as is expected that is not the case. It soon becomes evident that much darker powers are lurking just under the surface of this shipwreck, and that this village is not nearly as mundane as previously thought. Abe becomes ensnared in a race to stop an impossibly ancient and deranged power from re entering into our world.
As for the plot specifics, I won’t say much else since this book was a blast to read and is something I would definitely recommend, even to someone not versed in the Mignolaverse mythology. However, for those who are knowledgeable of this world’s extensive history, there are some juicy references back to ancient Hyperboria that never cease to excite me and further cement a feeling of inter-connectivity of events spanning whole eons. One element that carries through almost all of Mignola’s work is the fervent imagination and originality. Even when dabbling in preconceived folklore or legends, he finds a way to spin it in a dynamic way that keeps you wondering, always wanting to read more. It’s this element of originality that definitely makes up for the lack of dynamic dialogue or characterization in this book. I found that all my feelings towards Abe carried over from either the movies or from previous comics. Unfortunately, other than a few short moments in which Abe is in doubt of himself taking on his first solo mission, there is not much in the way of character progression, and Abe is used as a tool to progress the story, not the opposite. This bothered me at first, however thinking about more classical writers of the pulps or sci-fi/horror short stories, I found that it was the plots I remembered, not the characters.
In regards to the artwork, Jason Shawn Alexander takes the reigns here and does so to great success, I believe. From the very first page there is a cinematic flare to the panels. I judge how well a comic’s art is not only by its face value quality, but also by how each image flows into the next and how the panels compliment one another, to the point where I can easily see it playing out in my head like a feature film. In this, the team of Mignola/Alexander succeeds (though I will always prefer Mignola’s own personal style).
Regardless of the noticeable lacking of deep character arcs and such, “The Drowning” is a massively fun read that, like everything else in this universe I’ve read, is pure imagination fuel. It inspires and encourages the reader to think outside the box, to abandon the mundane way of thinking in turn for the fantastical, much like the fairy tails and fireside yarns of old. I personally look forward to reading through the continuing adventures of Abe, as well as the plethora of other stories within this truly exciting world.
Here’s a link or two!