Monday, May 31, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 117 (5/31) -- Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels by Mignola and Stenbeck

Mike Mignola's Hellboy empire continues to proliferate: the core series spawned the B.P.R.D. series about a decade ago, and has put out various other offshoots (Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, short stories, novels, art books, and other paraphernalia) since then. Sir Edward Grey has been a background character in several of those stories -- particularly the flashbacks to Abe Sapien's early, pre-transformation life -- and now he, in turn, got his own miniseries.

Grey is a Victorian ghost-hunter, in the long tradition of Carnacki and Jules de Grandin -- Mignola has an afterword about how much he loved those sleuths, and their compatriots, and how he thought he wanted to do a comic about his own Victorian investigator, until he realized how much research he'd have to do for all of the details of that world -- who is called in by the local authorities, in the time-honored fashion, when they have a case that has preternatural implications. The particular case Grey investigates in this book is tied into Mignola's usual mythos, as the undead spirit of one of his ancient hollow-earth slave-creatures is rampaging through 1879 London, slaughtering first the members of the expedition that brought its bones back to England, and then, as it gathers power, looking more widely for blood.

Grey is possibly Mignola's least physically imposing hero -- he's pretty tough, agile, and resourceful for a human, but that doesn't mean much in a Mignola universe. So it's a good thing for him that he's only up against one Mignola monster: the odds are still against him -- as they always have to be in a story like this -- but he's not utterly overmatched the way he would be against some of the creatures Hellboy or Abe or Roger or even Lobster Johnson battled. On the other hand, he is smart and knowledgeable, so he can handle himself pretty well.

Witchfinder takes the now-familiar Mignola plot and atmopshere, dropping it into a relatively new setting to ring some interesting changes as it goes. This story does suffer a bit from backstory-itis; Grey encounters both Martin Gilfryd (during his Bedlam years) and the Heliopteric Brotherhood of Ra, but the end of those particular stories have already been told elsewhere, so Grey's story feels more like a footnote in those scenes.

That's a quibble, though; Witchfinder is a dependably entertaining story of Mignolian supernatural skulduggery, set in an era ready-made for it. And new Hellboy-universe artist Ben Stenbeck does very well for himself; he has another one of those moody, drenched-in-black-ink styles that work so well for Mignola's world. So this may be an offshoot and a sidebar, but it's a pretty good one.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Josh Ritter - To The Dogs Or Whoever (live)
via FoxyTunes

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