Mike Mignola’s got a good thing going with this Hellboy racket. Besides being a popular franchise that’s birthed two feature films, animated movies and some cool merch, Hellboy also makes a great springboard for other projects. Because the nature of paranormal investigation stories allows them to cover different genres and subgenres (see: The X-Files) Mignola can introduce a variety of cool ideas into his main comic and spin them off into their own stories that doesn’t necessary feature the big red guy. It’s a “have your cake and eat it, too” moment — you get to release an original comic that’s also got the popular franchise banner emblazoned on the cover, attracting fans to comics they might not necessarily read otherwise.
And that’s why I write “From the Pages of Hellboy!” on the covers of all my minicomics.
Because I’m a weirdo, I haven’t read very much Hellboy at all. I have, however, read a handful of these satellite books and always find them entertaining. I know Sir Edward Grey, the protagonist of the Witchfinder comics, is a regular character in Hellboy’s adventures, but that’s irrelevant to Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever. At least, so far.
The first Witchfinder miniseries, In the Service of Angels, took place in Victorian London, dabbling in From Hell/League of Extraordinary Gentlemen territory. Lost and Gone Forever finds Sir Edward Grey in Utah a year later which, as you might imagine, means we have a Western on our hands (see what I mean about the paranormal investigation stories?). Grey comes to town on the trail of a man, asks a few too many questions, gets in a gunfight at a saloon, and finds out the town’s deep, dark secret from a mysterious Sam Elliot type. Of course I’m referring to his mustache.
It’s a bit by-the-numbers, a collection of genre tropes, but Mignola and co-writer John Arcudi seem to know this so they get it all out of the way in this first issue. Anyway, the point of this is going to be the cool supernatural stuff, so the western trappings are window dressing for this initial issue, where they establish that, yes, this is the genre we’re working in, so get a sense of that before we start throwing the scary stuff your way.
That said, this initial issue is mostly setup, but with a great action scene in the middle that allows our proper English gentleman of a protagonist to take part in a fun action scene where he gets to fire two revolvers at the same time and throw a guy out of a window. I grow ever so weary of setup issues, but it works for this western-influenced tale, giving the comic the feel of a serial, especially thanks to the harrowing cliffhanger at the end of the issue.
Did I mention this is drawn by comics legend John Severin? Because that’s fucking awesome. Guy’s been doing comics in a variety of genres (western, war, superhero, humor) for more than 60 years, so his art in Lost in Gone Forever is more than fitting. Severin’s gritty, highly detailed and realistic art doesn’t miss a beat and uses his genre-spanning experience to amazing effect. Look no further than the saloon sequence, where Grey and faux Sam Elliot are drawn in Severin’s straight-faced western style, while the obnoxious antagonist of the scene is as expressive and cartoony as his humor work, but still consistent with the rest of the world within the comic. I can’t wait to see how he handles the horror stuff Arcudi and Mignola have in store.
Oh, and here’s an old John Severin humor comic, if you’re unfamiliar.
Colorist Dave Stewart renders a majority Severin’s art in subtle blues, purples and light earth tones, which accentuates his more distinctly colored characters. There’s a particularly great panel during the saloon sequence where the background characters are all colored in the same nondescript grays save for faux Sam Elliot type, drawing attention to the character right before Severin zooms in on him in the following panel. Also, while everybody in the story is dressed in grays and browns, Stewart colors the aforementioned obnoxious guy as the only one in a bright red plaid shirt. Dave Stewart’s work in this comic is a great example of coloring as an essential storytelling tool working in tandem with the artist.
The following four issues will prove if the story will satisfy as much as the visuals, but I have faith in Mignola and Arcudi’s ability to tell a ripping good yarn, but based on the art alone, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever is necessary comics.