By: Mike Mignola & John Arcudi (story), Kevin Nowlan (art)
The Story: Lobster Johnson doesn’t care for the treat part of trick-or-treating.
The Review: Having just done a review of Five Ghosts, it’s kind of interesting to read another comic which channels a similarly pulpy feel—interesting because of how radically different the two issues are. While Lobster Johnson is clearly an homage to the radio vigilantes of the 1930s, like the Shadow and the Green Hornet, in tone and practice he’s quite unlike them. You get less of an adventurous feel with Lobster, and a greater fixation on his latest vendetta.
This is in no small part due to the fact that Lobster in some ways really serves more as a cipher than as a character in his own right. I confess that I haven’t read Hellboy or any of its spin-offs (yet), but in reading these one-shot Lobster specials, I strongly suspect their importance lies outside of the issues themselves. Not that these one-shots can’t stand on their own, but there is an incompleteness of message here that makes you feel like there should be more to the story than what you end up getting.
The plot in itself is whole with no noticeable gaps, given how straightforward it is: Lobster tracks down the cause of all the bodies getting dumped in a secret sewer and shuts down the problem at its source. He does this with his usual twisted sense of humor, tormenting his targets with the most grisly kind of Halloween pranks: placing a couple of the decomposed bodies in the henchman’s car and wiring it so that it nearly runs him over.
Obviously, there’s nothing subtle about the way Lobster operates, but Mignola-Arcudi could have afforded a little more depth and subtlety to the way the story carries out. For one thing, the investigative aspects are disappointingly undeveloped. We don’t actually learn how Lobster latched onto this case in the first place (we can only assume, as our criminals do, that he simply stumbled upon the bodies), and it takes him a minimum of effort to trace the villains (“Prints on the [bullet] shell,” he tells them disdainfully). Mignola-Arcudi couldn’t have made it easier.
There’s not much of a challenge for Lobster in taking on his opponents either. At least his infiltration of a Nazi conspiracy aboard a blimp back in Caput Mortuum required some extra finesse. By comparison, it doesn’t take too much skill to shoot up a wounded thug, an unarmed heavy, and two elderlies—one of whom is already wheelchair-ridden paraplegic.
If you can’t get your kicks entirely from the detective or action side of things, then the story needs to make up for it in the drama department. Unfortunately, Mignola-Arcudi’s attempt to give a tragic angle to the ultimate perpetrator is mostly a failure. His condescension and pompousness far overshadows any sympathy he might have (“I could buy and sell them by the dozen, but they look at me like I’m not even human!”), and I don’t believe he even gets the distinction of a name in the issue. Furthermore, the real hook of the story (i.e., the fact that all the victims are skid row bums) almost gets lost entirely until one vague reference near the end.
While the script is something of a wash, Nowlan draws it like a masterpiece in the making. He has a classic sense of perspective and figure that reminds you of Will Eisner’s work on The Spirit, but his sparse linework channels Dave Gibbons on Watchmen. There’s even a feeling of Hergé’s Tintin in the care he puts into the props and sets. The key to his art is how even in panels where the POV is a little distant from the characters, the minute detail he puts into them is so precise and sharp that you remain immersed in the story.
Conclusion: Mignola-Arcudi could have done some very interesting things with this specific premise, but instead, it feels like they only cared to scratch the surface. Nowlan’s art only just boosts the profile of this otherwise somewhat bland one-shot.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – It must be a pain to manage to survive your wounds, crawl to safety, get patched up, only to get fatally shot an instant later.