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Weird pulpy fun abounds in this dark and moody re-introduction to Mignola's favorite non-Hellboy detective.

Comic Books

Joe Golem: Occult Detective – The Drowning City #1 Review

Weird pulpy fun abounds in this dark and moody re-introduction to Mignola’s favorite non-Hellboy detective.

Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden’s occult detective, Joe Golem, is back! Well, for the first time really, in this thrilling re-introduction to the character — a faithful, concise, and pulpy comic adaptation of his original novel appearance which exists outside of the shared Hellboy universe in a Venice-like flooded New York.

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What’s it about? As with any Mignola story, there are a lot of threads going on here, but Dark Horse’s solicit reads:

A psychic medium is captured by a crazed scientist desperate to find an occult object that will connect him to worlds beyond the veil…But another mystery looms larger than ever, as the occult detective searches for answers about his real identity and a past that’s been kept secret for so long.

To that end, the issue spends most of its time getting all of its chess pieces, of which there are many, in place. Our medium, Felix Orlov, visits a dark ritual in his dreams that quickly turns far too real for him. Simultaneously, an ill-intentioned occult scientist sets his plans into motion.  And even still, that eponymous detective, Joe Golem, finds his way into the story through protecting Orlov’s assistant.

It’s a lot of activity without much substance, not uncommon for a first issue but a little disappointing for one that’s a jumping off point from an existing story where some of the writing here is lifted almost wholesale from the pre-existing novel. It’s well written, and those unfamiliar with the novel should love this but those who have visited this world and particular story before, might find it too familiar.

Still, what it lacks in substance, it makes up for in pulpy flair as Golem lays down solid punches on gas masked baddies, a dark prisoner whispers secrets of the void, and more of those familiar but fun Mignola occult touchstones that make up the DNA of Golem’s world and the narrative core here. It’s also refreshing to visit all these fun elements without worrying how they fit into the expansive, and often impressive, but overwhelming Hellboy universe.

Similarly, artist Peter Bergting and colorist Michelle Madsen’s offering here is in that same pulpy channel, slightly more downtrodden than one might expect from Lobster Johnson, but still evocative and in-keeping with the tone Mignola and Golden’s narrative sets. The grisly aspects of this world, the dark rituals, the shadowed figures waiting to enact their plans, and in contrast, the bright nature of Joe Golem and his efforts to shine a light on the darkness are in perfect balance, everything where it needs to be to see this story to its shocking end.

In the end, this is a faithful adaptation to a story of Mignola’s I’ve always loved, one that walks the perfect line between dark and fun, is free of the weight of the Hellboy world, and one with enough confidence to carry it forward as the story’s stakes continue to rise in coming issues.

Joe Golem: Occult Detective - The Drowning City #1
Is it good?
A faithful, if pedestrian, adaptation of Joe Golem's first story provides all the dark pulpy fun one would ever want from a Mignola story without having to worry how it connects to the often overwhelming Hellboy world.
The visuals here really add a special energy to already stellar writing from the original novel.
The Drowning City is an endlessly creative and fascinating setting, a Venice-like vision of New York that has a lot of staying power.
Most of the issue is spent getting things and people into place.

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