Friday, August 15, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #227: Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest by Mignola & co.

And we finish A Week in Hell with a book about the other notably inhuman-looking agent of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense:

Mike Mignola is not one for angst -- even when his characters are the rightful heir to the throne of Hell (and destined trigger of the apocalypse to boot), an accidentally mass-murdering pyrokinetic, or a supernaturally gene-engineered fish-man, they mostly just get on with their lives, sometimes with guilt over the things they've done but without the pouting and emoting that, for example, the X-Men have raised to a high art. Mignola's world is too dangerous and full of surprises for wallowing; no one who isn't focused on the job at hand will last long.

And so Abe Sapien -- that fish-man, the result of a Victorian spell/experiment gone wrong and only dug out, amnesiac, in the mid-1970s -- has no time to mope; he's too busy fending off supernatural beasties and things that go bump in the night. The second collection of his adventures -- Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest and Other Stories -- continues soon after the first, The Drowning, with each discrete Abe story taking place one year later, filling in to stories of his early days as a B.P.R.D. agent in the early 1980s.

Devil Does Not Jest contains three stories -- all written by Mignola with John Arcudi and colored by Dave Stewart, but each with a different artist, which makes for a jumble of names on the cover. "The Haunted Boy," a single-issue story, was drawn by Patric Reynolds; the two-part "The Abyssal Plain" by Peter Snejbjerg; and the two-part "The Devil Does Not Jest" has art by James Harren.

Each one is a moody supernatural tale, though they vary in tone and style: the title story is the most violent and Hellboy-ish, with a creature that knocks Abe around quite violently. "The Abyssal Plain" is the quietest, telling the story of an expedition to retrieve a medieval helmet from a drowned Russian sub. And "Haunted Boy" is in the middle, and runs more quickly with only half the number of pages to work with.

Reynolds's style is closest to the dark and shadowy look of the main artists of the Hellboy universe -- Mignola himself, Duncan Fegredo, Guy Davis -- with Snejbjerg the cleanest and most mainstream-comics looking. Harren has a grit to his art, but his action scenes take place in clear view, unlike a Miignola scene.

The Devil Does Not Jest is a bit miscellaneous: three missions over three years, all one-offs without connections to the larger storylines and themes of the Hellboy world. And Abe mostly just gets to be quiet and competent here; he doesn't have a demonstrative personality like Hellboy, so he can come off as a bit colorless when he's the main character. But Devil Does Not Jest does provide three helpings of monster-hunting and creepy menace in the dependable Mignola manner: it's not top-tier Hellboy mythos stuff, but it's still a strong collection of supernatural tales.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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