Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #226: Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand by Mignola, Arcudi & Zonjic

Turn back the pages to yesterday, as A Week in Hell returns to the halcyon days of the 1930s and the two-fisted exploits of Hellboy's favorite pulp hero.

Lobster Johnson's first miniseries -- Iron Prometheus, from 2007 -- covered a single case in 1937, and explained very little about the Doc Savage-esque (hidden base, lots of paraphernalia, team of agents) crime fighter. We saw him battling evil -- some of those manifestations of evil being familiar from the pages of Hellboy -- but didn't learn much about him.

A few years later, there was a second Lobster Johnson story, called The Burning Hand, written this time by the B.P.R.D. team of series creator Mike Mignola and compatriot John Arcudi and drawn by Croatian discovery Tonci Zonjic...and it still doesn't get into that traditional "who he is and how he came to be" comic-book origin stuff. (Not that I'm complaining, mind you: we've had seventy years of that stuff, over and over, so the lack is enticing here.) The book itself doesn't say when it takes place; I originally thought it was soon after Iron Prometheus but the Hellboy wiki claims it takes place in 1932.

Either way, this is a less conclusive story than Iron Prometheus: it provides an origin of sorts for the first Black Flame (look him up if you need to; I did) but is set somewhere in the middle of a long-running battle between the Lobster (unnamed in this book; just a vigilante with a claw for an emblem) and gangster Arnie Wald. Wald's right-hand man, Isog -- who has a distracting resemblance to Peter Lorre -- brings in the Black Flame and his keeper in an attempt to get rid of Johnson forever.

Along the way, the requisite intrepid girl reporter -- Cindy Tynan, Herald Tribune -- gets caught up in the Lobster's affairs. (No story set in the 1930s is allowed to be released without an intrepid girl reporter; it's a federal law.) But, mostly, what we get is intrigue and fight scenes: the Lobster trying to track Wald and vice versa, and then a rain of bullets and an inferno of black fire. (Plus other dangers, which I'll leave to the reader to discover.) But it doesn't conclude the way a full story would; it stops the way a collection of an ongoing series does, at a moment of closure but not an ending.

The Lobster Johnson stories are, so far, the furthest away from the core Hellboy series -- meaning either that it's most disposable for a reader who wants to focus on the central plot or that they're the easiest to pick up by an audience that likes pulpy adventure but isn't up to speed on the now quite extensive Hellboy cosmology. Both of those things are true, actually, depending on your viewpoint. But they're good pulpy adventure tales, and Zonjic has an appropriately cleaner, more heroic art style for this story than we see in most Hellboy-iverse books.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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