Last time, I talked about Harrow County, and with Halloween on the horizon, thought I’d stick with the horror theme and look for something with a bite this week. What I found, qualifies.
Victorian England makes a great backdrop for paranormal stories these days. And perhaps, it always has. That was the age of séances and a general and open interest in all things mystical or occult. Today, we have hits on TV like “Penny Dreadful”, and “Doctor Who” playing with this era, and countless books focused on it, too. So, it doesn’t surprise me that someone like Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy, would choose it as the setting for his Witchfinder series from Dark Horse comics.
Sir Edward Grey is an agent for the Queen, her Witchfinder—a title not held for nearly 300 years and earned through his actions saving her from a coven of witches. When a series of mysterious deaths occur in London, Sir Edward is on the case. The bodies appear not only drained of blood, but of all fluids, looking desiccated and mummified. When a potential suspect dies right in front of him, murdered by some sort of monster, Sir Edward follows the clues across London, meeting a powerful woman capable of speaking with the dead and a man who claims to be well over two-hundred years old, and the inspiration for Gulliver’s Travels. He also encounters the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra (setting the book firmly in the Hellboy Universe), a secret society dedicated to learning and preserving ancient and secret knowledge. They are in competition with Sir Edward, wanting not only to find the cause of the deaths, but to claim them as their own, making it a race – with Sir Edward trying to stop the killings, and the Brotherhood wanting to harness the power behind them.
Mignola has a great sense of the macabre and fantastic. This book is dark both in story and art (thanks to the wonderful Ben Stenbeck), has a fast pace, and new twists on every page. Sir Edward is an interesting and haunting character. A stoic Victorian gentleman, his life appears to be about duty and honor – duty to his Queen, and his own honor in doing so. Set early in his career, this story has him trying to find his way, still learning the ropes of how things work, and why. London is dangerous, but so is Sir Edward, and he isn’t afraid to take action when warranted.
The other characters are also interesting. Mary is a medium with a unique way of manifesting her power. She connects with Sir Edward who is drawn to her and her power. Like him, she is trapped by her station in life, but she is also trapped by her power. The Captain lives in the roughest part of the city like a spider. He makes it a point of knowing the comings and goings of London. Claiming to be over 200 years old, he’s a bit of a wild card for Sir Edward. To me, he feels like some hybrid of Professor Moriarty and Captain Nemo.
This is not an ‘in your face’ horror story, having a much slower overall burn with moments that spike up and grab hold of you when you least expect them. The mystery is laid out quite nicely, with breadcrumbs to keep you moving forward and looking around every panel for some clue hidden within. The art is very much that style of Hellboy, and I like it, stark and muted though reds stand out like bright spots to draw your eye. People are rendered to look like people, and the monsters like monsters.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal), and 2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fancast. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His debut novel, Samantha Kane: Into the Fire is forthcoming from WordFire Press. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012, 2013, and 2014 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.