By: Mike Mignola & John Arcudi (story), Sebastián Fiumara (art), Dave Stewart (colors)
The Story: Lobster’s no takeout man, but he’s here to deliver justice!
The Review: You might have noticed by now,* but I’m definitely something of a pulp addict. There’s something about that first half of the 20th century that just appeals to me. So it’s pretty much impossible for me to resist the allure of Lobster Johnson. I mean, the name alone is practically worth the price of admission. But the last couple times I’ve picked up a one-shot, I’ve wound up a bit disappointed with the result.
This has little to do with Mignola-Arcudi’s skills as writers and even less to do with the string of artists they’ve employed for these standalone adventures. It has more to do with how antithetical a one-shot is to the pulp genre, which established itself on the strength of its serial fiction. With hardly any timeless significance in the stories themselves, pulp survives for as long as it can keep the audience’s intrigue. It’s the cliffhangers, the twists, the ongoing mysteries which give pulp its lasting power.
So invariably, at the end of, first, Caput Mortuum and then Satan Smells a Rat, I’d reach the last page and feel a bit cheated. Mignola-Arcudi always guaranteed a complete plot, but with only a single issue to execute it, there wasn’t much depth or detail to enjoy for very long. Here, freed from that mean stricture (even if for only one issue more), Mignola-Arcudi have the opportunity to do much more with the story than usual.
For one thing, we get a chance to get to know some characters aside from the crustacean-inspired vigilante. Granted, we only get the faintest hints of personality and the barest outlines of their roles—Harry, Lobster’s intel man; Lester, his driver; Cindy, his reporter/informant/girlfriend; Jake, his detective archnemesis—but this is significantly more character work than previous issues ever provided, and it produces a much richer, more interesting story.
The extra leg-room of a second issue affords some improvements to the plot as well. It’s kind of nice to have antagonists whose whole identity can’t be fit into a nutshell. Nazis and fat cats are all well and good, but there’s no reason why Lobster can’t handle some criminals with more dimensional, less obvious motives. Here, we have a Chinese triad being targeted by not Lobster, surprisingly enough, but by some other mysterious attacker, leading our hero to assist the kind of folks he’d ordinarily put away. Add on top of that some cultural color (the Tong’s leader emphasizes to his courier, “This is not our money. It is the people’s money…”), and you finally have a plotline that has the possibility of satisfying our modern appetite for complex stories.
Dark Horse has always found rock-solid artists for the Lobster Johnson one-shots, and Fiumara may be the strongest of the three I’ve seen thus far. His methods are simple yet classic, conveying exactly what needs to be conveyed in a straightforward and effective way. Take the opening page of Lobster dashing across the rooftops of some New York City brownstones in the moonlight. Notice how Fiumara uses wide panels to convey the lengths Lobster can cover with his breathless stride, how each successive panel tightens closer on his body so you get a better sense of the speed, then intensity, then stamina, then passion with which our hero runs. See how Stewart manages against his generally dim palette to make Lobster stand out as a silhouette, then adds a glaring splash of orange from Lobster’s goggles, rendering him like a demonic phantom. Fiumura’s design chops also get some display as he brings in some Chinese fashion, the most striking being the chilling vision of Madame Hee Fai, corpulent and in full Eastern regalia, sitting and smiling calmly amidst the flames of her own brothel, her masked monkeys crying for help around her.
Conclusion: Lobster Johnson always had the potential for greatness, and this issue is strong evidence of it. The artistic efforts are better than ever, and the script actually has some weight.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Especially after seeing my Pulp Friction review. Check it out—it’s free. Free!
– Detective Jake snarls at Harry his question of why a newspaperwoman would want to talk to “a man—like you!” Racist, elitist, or both?