Monday, October 6, 2008

Abe Sapien: The Drowning

Abe Sapien: The Drowning
by Mike Mignola and Jason Shawn Alexander
Dark Horse Comics 2008

Hillary Brown: I'm still not quite sure what the huge deal is about Mike Mignola as a writer, but I haven't read all that much (just B.P.R.D. 1946). I have, of course, seen the movies, which have good bits and bad bits. I like the central premise of them quite a bit--any time there's paranormal research going on, I'm pretty much there--but, you know, it's hardly all that innovative. Abe Sapien features that character, who is less smashy than Hellboy and smarter, getting his own book, and this one is backdated to early in his career with the B.P.R.D., quite an advantage to have. Mignola gets to draw on at least 60 years of history, and he's not likely to turn down the opportunity to fill in all those gaps eventually. It's a bit like Buffy and Angel as TV series--when you have vampires who are 200 years old, and you're having trouble filling an episode, throw in a flashback. Not that this book features a lot to identify it as taking place in the 1980s. Just the date at the top of a panel or two. I guess the central questions are: Can Sapien carry a book on his own? And is this particular story worth telling? I'm going to let you weigh in before I answer them.

Garrett Martin: I think I gotta say "no" to both your questions. Okay, it's not a hard and fast no in regard to whether the character can carry a solo story or not; any character can do that, if the writing is good enough. Still, as written in this comic (the only thing I've ever read in the Hellboy line), Sapien is far too passive and reactive to make for an exciting lead. Obviously that's part of the point, but that awareness doesn't make the story any more entertaining. I mean, it really wasn't all that good, right? The nature of the villain and his weird homunculi is fairly interesting, but overall this is one plodding, uneventful comic. It could easily be a two-parter. The art's the best thing about it.

As I said, I'm utterly unfamiliar with Hellboy, outside of the first movie. I don't know if Mignola is held in especially high regard as a writer; his art is fantastic, though, and the supernatural conspiracy aspect to Hellboy, the novelty of which has been exhausted by the likes of Dan Brown, had to be fresh and fascinating back when it debuted.

HB: See, I'm not sure I'd say an outright no, but it's definitely not a resounding yes. I really like the character, even his passivity. He's sort of like a young Wesley Wyndham-Price: highly intelligent but not yet wise to the ways of the world and, thus, apt to get others hurt. He's soft and unformed and still learning how to make difficult decisions. I think all that is interesting stuff to examine, plus the story obviously is geared to his particular undersea abilities, BUT how well done is it really? I did end up liking the art a good bit (by Jason Shawn Alexander), even though it's both dark and blocky, two problems I had with the art in B.P.R.D. and that I believe are characteristic of the artists Mignola works with in general. Maybe it's that all the water kind of softens things. I did feel absolutely soaked by the end of the reading experience, as though I'd been dunked in the ocean over and over, then forced to wander through sewers in a cold, foggy environment. On the other hand, that's not exactly pleasant. There's definitely something compelling and creepy about the story, but I'm not sure it's told well enough. The art obscures more than it communicates, there's tons of mysterious voice-over delivered by at-first-unknown sources, the timeline is a little messed up, and everything's just kind of murky and unclear. I'm sure that's the point, to go along with Sapien's learning that situations are often more complicated than they seem and that, while being a paranormal G-man seems awesome, it in fact means you end up getting your friends killed and making the wrong choices, but there are times you want to shake Mignola and Alexander by the shoulders and yell "What the heck is happening?" Is this laziness on the part of the reader, or is it bad storytelling? I do love me some supernatural conspiracies though.

GM: I wouldn't call it laziness, at least not on Alexander's part. Maybe Mignola is overstretched, what with the incessant stream of Hellboy spin-offs and miniseries, and then all the non-comics stuff that he must be at least a consultant on. It could also just be bad storytelling. It's not pervasive throughout the book, but there are moments that aren't especially easy to understand. And it's not the story that's obtuse, but the way it's constructed; the art and words occasionally fail to mesh together in a coherent way. Y'know, like you mentioned above.

I like how you talk about feeling soaked by the end. I too felt weighed down by the sluggish pacing and bleak tone. It's a total slog. I gotta assume that isn't standard with most Hellboy comics, unless the thrillpower of the first movie came more from del Toro than Mignola.

HB: I think there's definitely a good chance it did, and from what I understand Del Toro pretty much wrote the second one himself, so maybe Mignola just isn't all that great. Perhaps some of our absent commenters (understandable, given our own laxness lately, for which we apologize) can fill us in on why we should read more of his stuff.

GM: I'll reserve judgement on both Mignola and Hellboy until I read more of both. I have to assume this series is something of an anomaly, 'cuz far too many respectable folks have praised Hellboy over the years.

Man, this book's boringness has infected my comments, I'm afraid.

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