Written by Cedric G! Bacon
We return to the dwellings of the submerged New York City of the 1960s that Joe calls his home, and as such we are returning to a new threat that Joe and his employer Simon Church must resolve.
There’s a marked tonal shift between the previous installment and this opening part in Dark Horse’s Joe Golem series. For the better I should say. “The Rat Catcher”, being Joe’s debut in the four color medium, had a lot of catching up to do for those who hadn’t read his appearance in Mignola’s novel that introduced Joe properly. It had the unenviable of transferring those themes to the vistas present in comics, and while it was successful in one sense that it got eyes on the title and generated curiosity, on the other it seems as though the story–Joe and Dr. Church’s investigation of the abduction of children beneath the waters of the city–seemed thin and stretched even more so in the three installments of that previous story.Think of when Peter Jackson took Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and stretched that to three films, already thin source material not on the scale of the mammoth “Lord of the Rings” books.
But I digress. It seems that Mignola and company have agreed and learned something from the previous story, cutting “The Sunken Dead” down to two parts, keeping things lean and terse to build the tension. The story off the jump finds Dr. Church and his giant PKE meter (the apparatus is not called that, but come on…any detector of the supernatural has to have some genesis from Ghostbusters right?) picking up large amounts of supernatural activity in the city. Meanwhile, Joe is attempting to build something with Lori Noonan from the previous series. If there was a fault that could be corrected with the series going forward, it is fleshing out more of Lori’s relationship to Joe beyond being the archetype pretty brunette that Joe falls for at first sight. However one grand benefit to this is that it allows Mignola and co-writer Golden to focus on getting the nuances and rhythms of each character without the need for internal monologues or external word boxes to move the story along or understand a character’s motivations. The series is becoming very much akin to a visual play for the comic medium.
The threat itself this time once again owes a debt to the machinations of H.P. Lovecraft, with the notion of a mysterious grimoire that a fellow collector of the occult has gotten his hands on may be more powerful than the individual can handle, especially as the individual is about to fall prey to that old Lovecraft trope of crossing forbidden knowledge’s threshold in the wake of overwhelming grief and sadness. Surprisingly, the flashback sequence to a long ago time may have a similar tie-in, as it buggers the question of what anyone–you, me, the people down the lane–will do when pushed hard enough and if enough has been taken away from us to correct it. The dark sides of human nature can be revealed through such means, and the confrontation of such results are usually never pretty.