Witchfinder: City of the Dead (#1 – 5) – Chris Roberson, Mike Mignola

4 out of 5

According to Scott Allie’s notes on the letters page, this Witchfinder arc – despite being published after the fact – was actually Chris Roberson’s first Mignolaverse entry, which in turn convinced the crew to bring Chris on as the main architect to replace the departed John Arcudi.  This, to me, is reflected in the strength of the writing here: Where I’ve had problems with Chris’ other HB stuff thus far, trying too hard to world-build and fan-nod, City of the Dead is focused; internal.  Its aware of continuity, of course, and has its on eye future installments, but all of the events and dialogue feel of-the-moment, and not just written on anticipation of whatever’s next.  I’ve continually commented that I know Chris can write, and so this reunderlines that belief and gives me (maybe regrettably, for my wallet) the faith to soldier through some more HB / BPRD stories to see if Roberson finds his Mignolaverse-voice.  If it can be as confident as what’s in Witchfinder – which, like many of the best HB tales isn’t trying to change the world but just tell a small, supernatural story well – we’ll be in fine shape.

City of the Dead finds Mr. Edward Grey investigating some reinvigorated corpses, with his knowledge of the other-worldly suggesting these are something more than voodoo-ed zombies.  Sprinkles of Hellboy lore with a certain Giruescu and the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra help fill in the background without alienating non-mythology infused readers, and Roberson successfully navigates a darkly humored tone with some creepy dream messages for grey and amusing conversations with his local crew of doctors and taskmasters.  Chris has an unfortunate tendency toward show AND tell here, with Grey’s diary acting as narration wordily covering events we could already intuit from previous panels, but the somewhat dry, verbose approach works okay for a Witchfinder tale.

Similarly, whereas I grew dissatisfied with Ben Stenbeck’s art on Baltimore, not quite the right match for the increasing scope demands of that world, the somewhat more humble investigations of Grey – more grounded in investigation and grunt work, though we’re also dealing with vampires – is a great fit, especially enhanced by colorist Michelle Madsen, who does an excellent job with shading to breathe life into the characters and panels.  I similarly became disenchanted with Dave Stewart’s coloring of Stenbeck, that it added to its stagnancy, so the new duo here is an excellent changeup.

I remain a satisfied Hellboy consumer.

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