A fun, original premise and moody, shadow-drenched artwork courtesy of ultra-talented artist Patric Reynolds (Aliens) are sure to make this atmospheric fusion of gritty detective fiction and occult horror a hit with fans.
Mike Mignola’s latest occult sensation has arrived in comic stores, after nearly fifteen years languishing on the shelf. Joe Golem was originally conceived as a comic book series set in an alternate New York City that resembled a ramshackle, dystopian version of Venice more than it did the Big Apple.
Before Mignola could bring the hard-boiled adventures of his stoic, granite-faced occult detective to his legions of fans, 9/11 brought the World Trade Center down and the creator was understandably hesitant to publish a comic set in a New York shattered by catastrophe. Instead, he and frequent writing partner Christopher Golden published Joe Golem and the Drowning City as an illustrated novel (above) in 2012.
Thankfully, this set the stage for the present comic book series, which, although it subscribes to the same Mignola formula refined in properties such as Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and Baltimore, comes at the reader from a fresh new angle, straddling the line between hard-boiled detective fiction and pulp horror.
Like Hellboy, Joe Golem is a creature of the dark arts. Unexpectedly brought to life while in the care of an aging occult investigator, he eventually takes over the agency, taking cases the police are too ill-equipped or unwilling to handle.
When a young street urchin – or “water rat” – finds himself food for the fishes after boosting a woman’s purse, Joe is one of the few adults to take claims of a creature lurking beneath the canals seriously.
Benefitting from the groundwork laid in the original novel, Mignola and Golden effortlessly build an original and intriguing setting that’s seemingly tailor-made for Patric Reynolds’ masterful ability to create atmosphere and suspense through the use of contrast and shadow.
The world the creative team brings to life is a robust and organic place of perpetual rain and swollen, low-hanging clouds, populated by a tough, desperate citizenry clinging to propriety.
Set during the fall of 1965, the book’s era reinforces its genre affiliation to classic detective fiction, lending the exotic Drowning City a disturbing familiarity and grittiness. Mignola and Golden know their business pretty damn well, and they plumb the rich depths of genre fiction with obvious relish, plugging what they find into their tried-and-true storytelling equation to create something fun and creepy.
If Joe Golem sounds like just another riff on Mignola’s iconic Hellboy franchise, then that’s probably because it is. Still, even a variation on a theme is head and shoulders above the competition when that theme is Mignola’s.
Featuring some pretty spectacular art and impeccable world-building, Joe Golem may not reinvent the wheel when it comes to pushing the boundaries of the form, but that’s only because it doesn’t need to. It’s just not that kind of book. What this fun genre mash-up does boast is high-level craftsmanship and a boatload of heart, making it well worth the price of admission.
Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden (W), Patric Reynolds (A), Dave Stewart (C) • Dark Horse Comics, $3.50.