Sunday, May 13, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #133: Abe Sapien, Vols. 8 & 9 by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie, and many others

I was slightly surprised to sit down to read two books and then to find that the first of them had the big ending. Not horribly surprised, since I like stories that have endings, but it did seem unusual for the big ending to be, you know, not at the end.

But that's comics for you, isn't it?

Those books are the penultimate and last volumes collecting the Abe Sapien series, individually titled The Desolate Shore and Lost Lives and Other Stories. Abe is one of Hellboy's buddies, and a potential Apocalypse Being hisownself, though fish-based apocalypses are inherently less cool than those with flashy red demons -- that's my explanation why HB is the series star and AS is the sidekick, and I'm sticking to it.

As usual with all things Hellboy-related in the 21st century, series creator Mike Mignola has a hand, but how much of a hand is not as clear. He gets a credit for co-writing all of the stories, but we all know that "co" can cover a gamut from "not at all" to "everything on the page and then some." Most of the time here, he's co-ing with his long-time editor (and noted serial sexual harasser) Scott Allie, with one story in Vol. 9 done with John Arcudi (who, as far as I know, has never been accused of biting people in public, and good for him).

Lost Lives, the final book of the series, is easier to describe -- it collects a bunch of fill-in stories and single issues that came between the longer stories, by a large number of different artists, and only loosely ties into the overall "Abe wandering through post-Lovecraftian apocalypse America" plot. In fact, they're all set before that apocalypse -- though they do each provide some backstory or additional details, since the Hellboy-verse is a very continuity heavy one, and every seemingly minor evil magician or monster has some connection to at least one of the many potential apocalypses churning in the background.

The art in the Lost Lives is quite varied, from Michael Avon Oeming, who has a dark, blocky version of the standard Hellboy-universe look, to the lush detailed faces of Alise Gluskova to the more traditional comics look of Kevin Nowlan to what I think is fully painted work by both Mark Nelson and Santiago Caruso. Dave Stewart provides color for a few of these stories, but they're more often colored by the artists.

They're all basically standalone pieces, and are just fine as such -- monster stories of one kind or another, even if some of the monsters are human. But they are all here primarily as teasers, each to highlight some shadowy cabal or potential end for ol' Abe.

The Desolate Shore, on the other hand, is drawn tag-team by twins Max and Sebastian Fiumara (like much of the previous few storylines) and is the culmination of the previous few volumes -- The Secret Fire and the three books before it -- which saw Abe transformed again into an even fishier-looking version of himself and his leaving the BPRD after that frog-monster apocalypse actually happened. For those four volumes, Abe has been the piscine TV-Incredible-Hulk, wandering into one town after another, meeting the locals, and mostly not being particularly successful in keeping those locals from being eaten or otherwise destroyed by the inhuman monsters of apocalypse. It's a nihilistic and nasty world, and various supernatural folks have repeatedly told Abe that humanity is doomed, but that some other sapient race will arise, so that's all OK. (Abe's new form is apparently that of a predecessor race that perished in a previous similar apocalypse, which is supposed to be... reassuring?)

Frankly, I don't consider that any kind of consolation, and dragging it out to this length has gotten annoying, even if each individual Abe story is done well. There is a place for tragedy, but this isn't a tragedy. It's a story that says "everyone else will inevitably die very soon in horrible agony, but you, Abe, are special and wonderful and so can become part of the new world," and I have to wonder if Scott Allie is the source of that very sour moral, or if it's baked into the Hellboy universe by Mignola. (I think the former, since Hellboy himself did fight against the apocalypse he was supposed to begin, and stopped that one. But this universe is so rife with apocalypses that it's difficult to make a general statement.)

Anyway, it's all over now, and Desolate Shore ends limply, with Abe fighting some rando evil magician who wants to steal his power just because he's there. It doesn't really connect to the larger apocalypse -- again, the overall message is that Abe should give up, since he can't make any difference anyway -- and Abe doesn't even win clearly, in a fight scene with that evil magician transformed into a creature exactly like him.

Eh. It's done now. And some of the middle was good. But, all in all, Abe Sapien is one of the weakest, most problematic pieces of the Hellboy universe: it has a bad message, doesn't go much of anywhere, and ends pointlessly.

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