13 February, 2013

A Boring Review for a Pretty Decent Comic

Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand

Good to see Mr. Johnson getting cover work.

Hellboy trades are one of those things I wait around for on bated breath. I love Hellboy and have for quite some time and Mike Mignola is quietly one of my favorite names in comic books. The world that Hellboy exists in means a lot to me and every time a new, proper Hellboy trade comes out, I am excited. That even extends to side stories, stories like Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand.

In this particular case, I was especially excited because Tonci Zonjic, a man as talented as his name is unpronouncable, would be performing art duties alongside John Arcudi's writing. What's more is that the last Lobster trade was something of a disappointment, so this could only

My longing for another Lobster Johnson trade comes from that fact that it was drawn by Tonci Zonjic and increased by the fact that the first trade could only be improved upon.

The Burning Hand exists as its own story and the story that is there is fairly solid. Does it have glow in the dark Indian Italian mobsters? Yes. Does it have a hobo spy ring? Yes. Does it have a dragon lady and a guy who "isn’t" Peter Lorre? You bet. The problem is that it uses the characters, the setting, and the crazy throwaway madness to no real end. It just is. While it is told fairly well, it still isn't Hellboy. Hell, it isn't BPRD.

John Arcudi is skilled at a great many things as a writer. As a nerd and as a fan of what amounts to be pulp garbage, I appreciate that Arcudi is best when he's in a position to throw his idea bucket at the story at hand. What I mean is that all of the zombies, werejaguars, and Fu Manchus all exist to accentuate a more important story. In the same way that Cuba's revolutionary problems aren't what the Godfather series is about, the Nazi clone robots are not what BPRD is about. The story is never just the monsters, it's what these monsters mean to the world and the people in it.
See? Now there's a title!

The problems with the Lobster Johnson series is that it is only ever about the Nazi robot elephant in the room, which I guess is sustaining enough of an idea for 100 pages or so. The book is defined by its disposable thrills and those pointless moments are kind of amazing in their own way. They show you a wider, weirder world that would maybe work better as an ongoing story or maybe one that didn't require you to fill in the gaps with various other series.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that Hellboy, as a series, isn't something that is as self contained as I think it is. Huh. That'll bug me.


 My favorite weird moment is when Lobster Johnson and his team are lured into the mansion of what they believe to be a mob boss’ hideout. In reality, it’s a lair given over to the cannibals that run New York City’s underground and it is a trap. Because of course it is.

Because it’s a pulp book and it stars a guy with two pistols. It isn’t be the solid world building of BPRD or the far-out mythology of Hellboy. It is, however, fun. Saying it is “insubstantial” is almost inherent to the premise. It’s almost a compliment. People don't want to read baggy pulp stories, that's how you get bad Quentin Tarantino movies. This genre was built to move and Lobster Johnson moves.

While it's in the same universe, you buy Hellboy for the mythology and for BPRD you buy it for this cast of characters dealing with the end of the world and in this case you buy it for the mobster cannibal houses.

The art from Tonci Zonjic is the best part of this comic. Zonjic brings something special to the work in the same way that Duncan Fegredo and Guy Davis bring something special to their work, so does Mr. Zonjic. I'd like to think that he gets it.

What are you doing? Buy this book already.
It somehow just fits better into the overall look and feel of  the Hellboy universe. Feel is a word that I have to put in itallics, because there's no real qualifying it. Some artists just feel wrong. I never liked anyone drawing Hellboy until Douglas Fegredo, because he seemed to get it somehow. While Lobster Johnson isn't a proper Hellboy book, he performs the magic that Fegredo has done in the past, which is he makes the content seem both beautiful and somehow perfectly natural in the the supernatural world that Mike Mignola has created.

In the end isn't that all you need? The book is called Lobster Johnson. There are better pulp books and there are worse pulp books and there are very few that involve the Hellboy name, so as flawed or as underwhelming as it is, it does deliver on the title. It is about a character named Lobster Johnson and he does some Lobster-Johnson-ass-shit in between the cover and the back.

At least it doesn't completely drop the ball like The Iron Prometheus, as well. That felt like it someone had forgot that it was a four issue mini-series at the last moment and had to cram in an ending (one which you only get if you read BPRD which, last I checked, is not how Hellboy works. That is how bad X-Men work). If I'm angry at The Burning Hand, it's because I'm projecting all of my frustrations on it from the last book in the series.

In the end, though, this this stuff is fun. And that is kind of all it is. It isn't brilliant, it doesn't transcend anything and it doesn't really need to. I expect more from the talent involved and from the franchise involved and, yet, this book is about a guy with two pistols and his crew of New York stereotypes shooting people and saving the day. If that's the worst thing that can be said about this book then I think we could use a lot more terrible comic books like this.