Lobster Johnson: Metal Monsters of Midtown #2
By Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Tonci Zoncij, & Dave Stewart.
The Lobster’s brawl against menacing metal behemoths leads to him meeting a woman who reveals a key piece of their origin…
By comparing the latest issue of Lobster Johnson to the latest issues of B.P.R.D, Abe Sapien and Hellboy in Hell, you find yourself with a perfect example of how The Lobster’s adventures are starkly different to the rest of the Mignolaverse. Whilst each of the other titles toyed with themes of ending, Lobster Johnson: Metal Monsters of Midtown is a jolly old jaunt and a joyful lark with no pressing apocalyptic feel lingering in the background.
The tone at work here is incredible silly, and at times borders on parody. But much like the film Shaun of the Dead, the Lobster Johnson IP frequently walks the line between sending up a genre and fully being part of it all at once, and as per usual with the character, that’s achieved expertly in this issue. It’s not a tone for everyone. The Frank Miller obsessed “everything must be dark & serious” type of reader might struggle with something that is so unreservedly barmy, but for readers willing to kick back and have a little fun, this is a treat. The lack of real ‘character’ and subtly won’t be for everyone. This is definitely broad stuff. Don’t expect nuanced character arcs here. The entire Mignolaverse has a rich vein of ‘pulp’ running through it, but it is in Lobster Johnson that Mignola plays with that sub-genre the most. Hellboy is where he does depth, this is where he has fun. And even though this issue is part of the Hellboy continuity, in many ways it feels more a-part of Mignola’s other work: The Amazing Screw On Head & Other Curious Objects.
Where the first issue was wall to wall high-octane action, issue #2 steps it back a little bit by delving more into mystery and detection as The Lobster seeks to learn more about his nemesis of the week. It’s classic and old-fashioned structure, but it works: Lure them in with action (issue #1), hit them with exposition (issue #2) and, presumably, hit them with more action, except this time, given what he learned in issue #2, The Lobster can win (issue #3). Mignola & Arcudi know what works for their characters, and given the sheer craziness that’s thrown at us thick & fast in this book (metal monsters!? IN MIDTOWN!?) anchoring the story with classic structure helps stop the story from becoming too inventive for its own good. In short: though the icing on the cake may be all kinds of bonkers, the cake itself is nice & classic & reliable. It’s a strong stage in a strong story from Mignola & Arcudi, albeit a little narration-heavy. Though for Mignola regulars, heavy-narration is busy as usual.
The art, from Tonci Zonjic, feels incredibly like Mignola’s own, at times maybe imitating him a little too much. But it’s great stuff, showcasing why Tonci Zonjic is a perfect fit for this world. Zonjic is adept at emulating that classic pulp feel. In the best way in the world, this book feels like a 40’s rag that a kid would grab at a newspaper stand with their spare change, read in a sitting, then toss under the bed never to be seen again. And there’s a real dynamism to the imagery here. Readers wanting a book all about photo-realism may not be too keen, but for a reader more interested in the romantic and the bold – Mignola himself is one of the very few artists who can rival Zonjic. His is a world where smoke billows as if it’s dancing and water shimmers as if a mirror. There’s an expert, near operatic, use of space: always knowing when to cram a panel with detail or leave it wide & open. In another life Zonjic could have been an incredible painter of propaganda posters. The line work is simple, yet striking. The Lobster’s poses and leaps suitably like he’s the star of an old radio play. Zonjic GETS this character and it’s a delight to see him play with him.
Dave Stewart continues his role as the glue holding the Mignolaverse together with the same quality as always. Writing ‘the coloring is good’ in a Mignolaverse books feels a bit like saying The Beatles are good. By this point it’s standard. Stewart truly is the glue of this world. Given the rotation in artists across the associated titles, it could be easy for the characters to become a little lost to interpretation, but by always using Dave Stewart for colours there is a unifying stamp across all books. Though each book is it’s very own unique looking salad, in which the chef is free to present it as they wish, all the salads are unified by a very striking style of dressing that brings them all together as a whole. (Side note: Two comparisons to food in one review… Might be hungry….)
Lobster Johnson: Metal Monsters of Midtown Issue #2 (of 3) is a playful pulp romp full of mystery & intrigue wedged nicely between, presumably, two issues of madcap action. Not for everyone, but glorious good fun for those willing to go along with the ride. Its lack of real depth holds it back from the 5-star rating a similar Hellboy book would have got, but this is brilliant fun none-the-less.