Monday, 27 April 2015

Lobster Johnson, Volume 3: Satan Smells a Rat Review (Mike Mignola, John Arcudi)


I’ve got a lot of respect for Mike Mignola. He’s an extremely talented artist and writer who created an original character called Hellboy back in the early ‘90s that now, some 22 years later, he’s been able to successfully build an empire off the back of. Besides the main Hellboy title and its many iterations, the extensive Hellboy universe takes in BPRD, Abe Sapien, Witchfinder, Baltimore - and they’re mostly pretty good. That said, I think Lobster Johnson is one title too many, or at least it’s a good one-off concept that doesn’t work as a series. 

Lobster is Hellboy’s favourite comic book character. A pulp vigilante hero from the early 20th century, he dresses a bit like the Rocketeer, has a gun, and uses a brand in his palm to burn an image of a lobster claw onto the foreheads of his enemies. Three volumes in, have we learned anything more about the character? Nope. 

And that’s the major failing about Lobster Johnson which is how static the character is. With Hellboy, his rich history was already developed by the third volume and has only gotten better since. Lobster? He’s still just the one-note hero he always was. He barely speaks, he has almost no backstory and he’s just a guy on the page - there’s no presence, no actual character to engage with. 

Satan Smells a Rat is a collection of short stories where Lobster takes on: Nazis who’re trying to unleash a flesh-eating virus over New York via a zeppelin; mad scientists conducting unholy experiments in their basements; a Lovecraftian monster; and a supernatural Japanese assassin and his monkeys. 

Like the protagonist, there just isn’t much to these stories either. Lobster punches/shoots the bad guys, wins, moves onto the next. They leave almost no impression because they’re so generic and play out so predictably. I know these are stories based on the pulps of yesteryear so aren’t aiming to be sophisticated, but isn’t the saving grace of the pulps that while they’re badly written, they’re dumb fun? These comics are the opposite of that! 

We’ve seen Lobster do these same kinds of things for three books now - is he ever going to change? Is any of this building up to anything and will we see a purpose for the character emerge? No, because that’s not the nature of the series - and that’s why it was never that good to start with and has only become more stale since. 

The art varies from story to story but overall it’s very strong. I liked Sebastian Fiumara and Tonci Zonjic’s work the best from A Scent of Lotus and Caput Mortuum, and Dave Stewart and Kevin Nowlan’s colours are exemplary, but I didn’t dislike any of the artists’ pages. 

It’s amazing to me that Mignola has gotten three volumes out of this barely-even background character (and I think there’s even a Volume 4 and maybe 5 as well) but it really isn’t a series that’s worth following, especially not when you’ve got the calibre of books like Hellboy to be reading instead. Satan Smells a Rat? I smell a rotten turkey!

Lobster Johnson, Volume 3: Satan Smells a Rat

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