ADVANCE REVIEW! Lobster Johnson: Caput Mortuum will go on sale Wednesday, September 19, 2012.
A new Lobster Johnson tale is always a thrill. Each story is a tight, self-contained yarn bursting with high energy and high adventure — just like the movie serials and pulp fiction of yore that inspired the character. Lobster Johnson: Caput Mortuum is further evidence that messers Mignola, Arcudi, Zonjic and Stewart are masters of their craft. They deliver more fun in a single issue than most series deliver in a year.
This latest issue is just what you would expect — in that it is a blast. Nazi scientists (or maybe proto-Nazi scientists? This story is set in 1932 and Hitler hasn't taken power yet. I guess they are just evil Germans) have developed a bomb that spreads a gas that literally melts you from the inside. They have come up with a cunning plan to fly over New York and drop the bomb, killing all sorts of people. It is simple and elegant, the kind of plan that needs a Lobster to put down.
Plot-wise, Caput Mortuum is straightforward to the extreme, but that doesn't mean it is shallow. Even with a simple plan (and it is the simple plans that always go wrong) I enjoyed how Mignola and Arcudi weaved complexity into the single-issue tale. The evil doers are motivated by more than just twisted ideology and hate — they are dismayed at the poor treatment Germany has received post-WWI, and are desperate to strike a blow for a country that has been pummeled into economic despair.
Mignola and Arcudi even fooled me with the first few pages. The distractor at the beginning had me thinking the main story was on, only to realize a few page later that it was all set-up, just to give artist Tonci Zonjic a chance to draw some melty people.
And draw them he does. Along with an exceptional fat man. Is that a compliment? Tonci Zonjic, you draw great comedic fat guys. You should do an Abbot and Costello strip. But aside from comedic fat men, Zonjic's art has a cinematic quality that perfectly captures the nostalgic feel of old adventure serials. Color King Dave Stewart's muted palette complements Zonjic's art perfectly, especially when the bright red claw stabs from out of the brown and grey pages, dealing fiery justice.
One of the things I love about Lobster Johnson: Caput Mortuum — and the entire Lobster Johnson series for that matter — is that it has all the conventions of steampunk — a battle on a zeppelin, villains in gas masks, a goggle-wearing hero — but it never gives in to steampunk, never falls into self-referential parody. The series goes mystery first into the darkness, with an unknown hero dealing out harsh justice to the deserving. Everything about this issue could have gone too far, but the team keeps the balance just right.
I've been reading Lobster Johnson since the character first appeared in Hellboy, and I still don't know the crucial question — why a lobster? At this stage, I don't ever want to know. He has a lobster emblem. That's weird. That's cool. That's Lobster Johnson.
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.