An adolescent orphan navigates a subterranean world of magic and technology with the help of an aged detective and his mysterious square-jawed protector.
There’s an appetite out there for these sorts of propulsive, fantasy-rich mash-ups of steampunk and mythic literature, as evidenced by the likes of the video game Bioshock and Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But few combine literary sincerity and fun as well as Mignola (creator of the comic-book superhero Hellboy) and sometime collaborator Golden (Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, 2007, etc.). Here the pair construct a rich world ripe for sequels and prequels. In their version of New York City, a cataclysm flooded the place in 1925, sinking Lower Manhattan in what has become known as “The Drowning City.” An elderly necromancer named Felix Orlov has taken 14-year-old redhead Molly McHugh under his protection. When malevolent gas-masked intruders attack, Molly is saved by an enormous boxer-nosed brute named Joe. It turns out that Joe works for an ancient Holmsian detective, Simon Church, who inspired dozens of stories and novels but whose real work is keeping tabs on the city’s occult activity. “Give me honest ghosts, a vampire hungry for blood, boggarts that eat children…that’s more my area,” says Church. “Not this vast, unknowable cosmic lunacy.” For decades, Church has been hunting the malevolent Dr. Cocteau, a brilliant and elusive villain who’s gotten his hands on a powerful artifact called Lector’s Pentajumlum. Steely-eyed but an amnesiac, Joe instinctually becomes Molly’s protector, but the dreams of this Croatian behemoth are of killing witches, a tidbit that becomes important later in the story. With Jules Verne technology, ghosts, magic and multidimensional monsters, it doesn’t fall that far from Mignola’s Hellboy origins, but it’s an awfully fun way to pass an afternoon.
Mignola’s affectionate, Kirby-esque portraits compliment Golden’s imaginative, YA-friendly prose.