ADVANCE REVIEW! Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1 will go on sale Wednesday, January 11, 2012.
As much as I love to read them, I would hate to live in a Mike Mignola comic book. In Mignola's world a guy can't even take his favorite gal out for a moonlight walk around town without encountering a cop tied to a lamppost, his scalp dripping red from where once the skin and hair once was, followed by a ghostly army of rampaging Indians coming at you with tomahawks and knives.
Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand is the latest adventure of the Golden Age hero of the B.P.R.D. universe. Part Scooby Do mystery, part adventure serial, part newspaper drama, this first issue of set the stage for a story while leaving me off-kilter enough that I still don't know what to expect next issue.
The improbably named Johnson is a true mystery man who appears out of dark shadows delivering swift justice and leaving behind only a lobster claw mark on guilty foreheads. I don't know too much about Johnson as a character — I have only read his appearances in Hellboy — but he is just one of those guys who is inherently cool. Cool costume. Cool name. I want to know more.
But because Johnson is such an enigma, he cannot be the lead character in his own series. Giving away too much of the plot removes the aura of intrigue he carries. Instead, a spunky Herald Tribune reporter Cindy takes over that duty. She isn't the one who discovers the scalped cop and phantom Indians, but she is one the scene the next morning to follow the leads that the cops seem to be ignoring. Her pursuit of the ghostly Indians leads her into the depths of Gangland and strangeness.
Cindy is kind of a set character. In this first issue, she is almost entirely exposition, moving the story along with her interviews without much emotional attachment. There is a mystery here, and I am sure that all of the people we get introduced to via Cindy will come into play in future issues, but for right now it is mostly just making the introductions.
Visually, Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand just drips period film noir. The art is a highly competent, stylized and simplistic like Dave Mazzuchelli's work in Batman: Year One. I have never seen Tonci Zonjic's art before that I know of, but his style is inviting and draws you quickly into the story while Dave Stewart keeps the colors muted with occasional shocks of red.
The character designs and costumes are clean and simple, and there is even a little fellow who looks like Peter Lorre running around — something that always improves '30s and '40s thrillers.
The Peter Lorre character is the real hook. There has to be more to the little man with such a dubious plan as phosphorescent-painted ghost Indians to drive down property values. That is such a mundane little conspiracy for Lobster Johnson to become involved in, you just know there has to be some surprises waiting around the mist-covered corner.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.