This second Witchfinder collection is just an incredible comic. In the afterword, writer John Arcudi says it took him years to put this series together, and I believe it because it has a maturity and depth of vision that you don't find in something spontaneous. That vision is combined with stunning and patient art, of a level of quality that has all but disappeared in modern comics. This is a series that takes its time. And rewards heavily.
Taking its name from the old Cowboy ballad Darling Clementine, the series Lost of Gone Forever takes the British Victorian occult detective Sir Edward Grey, Royal Witchfinder to the Queen, and sticks him in the middle of the American Old West, complete with buckskinned sidekick and Indian magic. If this sounds in any way cheesy or forced, believe me it is not. Much more than a simple fish-out-of-water story, Sir Edward Grey's sojourn in the American Wild West forces him to tackle a fundamental question: how can a Christian do battle with supernatural forces, and still retain his faith?
There are two conflicts in this series. The first is the physical battle between the supernatural witch-child Eris with her legions of the living dead against the human duo of Grey and his companion Morgan Kaler, the aforementioned buckskin-wearing cowboy. In this fight, the winner is never in question. Eris can launch wave after wave of undead armies will little worry, while Grey and Kaler can only respond by putting lead bullets in bodies that no longer feel pain.
The second battle is waged on a spiritual plane. The oil-and-water of Indian Shamanism mixed with Western Christianity causes an imbalance in Eris' chief ally. She resurrected the spirit of the Indian shaman Kaipa and put it in the body of a dead Christian priest. So now Kaipa is both of these faiths, and yet neither. He has tremendous power, but no moral guide on how best to use it. Meanwhile Grey, a devout Christian, refuses to acknowledge Eris and Kaipa's power source, convinced that Eris is nothing more than just another witch to be taken down.
And then there is Kaler, who adds one of the most interesting themes. Kaler is a hard-edged cynic who believes in nothing, which ends up being his greatest strength. Eris is a goddess who needs people to believe in her. Eris can hurt him, but not conquer him. Because he does not believe in her.
I loved how Mignola and Arcudi explored these themes. It makes Sir Edward Grey a much richer character than someone like Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane, who uses his Christian faith as a blunt weapon and is unshakeable in his conviction no matter how many African gods he encounters. When I read the first Witchfinder series I thought that Sir Edward Grey was going to be fun, but a one-note character. Lost and Gone Forever shows that Mignola and Arcudi are developing him beyond his origins.
The art in Lost and Gone Forever is stunning. John Severin is an artist from the golden age of EC comics, and his draftsmanship is astounding. This kind of fine art-inspired line work has all but disappeared from modern comics, which are more focused on style than just good drawing. Dave Stewart's perfect coloring brings out every fine line and gives them depth and feeling. With his zombies and horror elements, Severin seems to have a bit of Richard Corbin in him, although give the eras when they began it is probably more correct to say that Corbin as a bit of John Severin in him.
Severin's prairie scenes are also particularly impressive. In one shot, Grey finds himself in the Indian Happy Hunting Ground, and as he surveys the idyllic landscape he is awestruck and can only say, "Blessed M'Lord, it's so beautiful." I cannot help but agree.
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.