Saturday, June 13, 2015

Lobster Johnson, Vols. 3 & 4 by Mignola, Arcudi, Zonjic & guests

I still suspect the whole point of the Lobster Johnson series is so that Mike Mignola can have his own version of Doc Savage to play around with whenever he wants to. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but, four volumes in, the Lobster -- if there was an in-comics explanation of "Johnson," I've missed it -- is still deeply enigmatic, a guy who we only ever see in costume and who has no interior life. He does his job of fighting evil, he has a crew of oddball agents, and that's about it.

The Mignola/Hellboy universe is punching-centric, yes; it features a whole host of problems, nearly all of which can be solved by a big red fist to a face or a judiciously applied dose of purifying flame and/or high-caliber bullets. But the other pieces of it, from the original core Hellboy series (though that's amusingly a sidebar to the larger universe, now) to the continuity-drunk B.P.R.D. manifold to Abe Sapien's solo stories, are about the strange people as much as the strange situations. The Lobster's stories, though, are about what's mostly a '30s stock company -- spunky girl reporter, smart black mechanic, not-as-smart-as-he-thinks-he-is gang boss and his creepy omnicompetent henchman, plus the inevitable army of cannon fodder in hats -- performing the stories we expect, as the still unknown Lobster smashes crime and leaves behind his inevitable calling card.

Satan Smells a Rat collects five stories clustering around the single-issue size (one longer, one shorter), all written by Mignola and his longtime collaborator John Arcudi, with art from series artist Tonci Zonjic in one case and others (Sebastian Fiumara, Kevin Nowlan, Joe Querio,  and Wilfredo Torres) on the remaining stories. They're all very punch-happy, and good pulpy fun -- though, personally, I don't think Nowlan's art style is a good match for the Hellboy universe. [1] Since this universe is made up of tiny details that turn out to be important later, I won't say that these are all minor sidebar stories -- something here may set up a major villain in 2020 -- but, for right now, they're little, individual stories.

Get the Lobster!, on the other hand, is more of a "mythology" storyline, as much as those exist for the Lobster. The gangster and his henchman from Burning Hand are back, and there's a fiendish scheme involving mind-control and a giant killer gorilla. (The Hellboy universe has always been very strongly driven by whatever Mignola and his collaborators think would be really cool to draw.)

This is all, as I said, good pulpy fun, and Zonjic in particular has a real flair for drawing '30s-style action. It is a bit thinner than the main Hellboy or B.P.R.D. stories, and definitely only slightly connected to their world. But there are very few comics these days about a pulp hero punching out a remote-controlled dwarf in a devil mask, and you have to respect it for being there for us.

[1] You can take that with a grain of salt, if you want, since my brother and I have been jokingly calling him Kevin "rat-faced git" Nowlan since the late '80s because of the distinctive faces he draws. He's good at what he does, but I've never really warmed up to it. So I have a tendency to say he doesn't match well with anything I see him do.

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