An new arc begins, “The Shadow Over Suwanee,” and I assure you, this is the Abe Sapien arc you’ve been waiting for…
Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Illustrated by Sebastian Fiumara
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
Haunted by memories of Hellboy, Abe crosses paths with a horrible monster in a sunken town, which reveals secrets of his own prehuman origins.
Mark: I’ve been itching to review this one from the second I read it. This is an arc I’ve been wanting to see for a while now. This is Abe finally confronting his baggage.
Mike: That’s exciting to hear! Last we did one of these you were left a little cool by the issue, so I’m excited to hear what you have to say for this one.
But yeah, lots of baggage being unpacked, lots of amazing art, where do you want to start?
Mark: Well, last we left Abe he had had a falling out with Grace and at the end of the issue, he dived into some water and swam away. Now, there’s an interesting timeline thing here, because there has been quite a bit of time passing in the current B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth stuff, and the Abe Sapien series fell out of sync with it around the time Abe met Grace. It was mentioned at the beginning of “A Darkness so Great” that they’d been traveling together for two weeks. Meanwhile months have been passing in B.P.R.D.
So when we catch up with Abe in this issue, I think he’s been swimming underwater for a while, lost in his memories.
It kind of reminds me of when Hellboy was adrift at sea for two years after “Hellboy: The Third Wish.”
Mike: I was curious about the timeline at play here, since the issue makes sure to telegraph that we’ve leaped forward. This got me wondering where the time went for Abe, which made me think about those wandering Hellboy stories, too. Because of that parallel, I can’t help but ponder about this missing time. Did he have minor adventures that’ll be filled in later? Was it just an uneventful few weeks? Did he swim across the entire Gulf of Mexico? I mean, it’s gotta be close to a thousand miles.
Mark: I figure for a while there he just shut down, swimming aimlessly, surviving but not living his life.
Mike: Man, that makes his story feel even sadder.
Mark: I love what this issue does with its opening pages. Abe is lost in memories of his past, and the gutters of each page are filled with water. He’s nostalgic for the good old days with Hellboy and Liz when none of them were trying to find out what they are. And this is where I have to admire what Sebastián Fiumara is doing. He’s imitating Mike Mignola’s drawing style from Hellboy: Seed of Destruction and Hellboy: The Wolves of Saint August.
What better way to show Abe’s nostalgia than to evoke the reader’s?
Mike: I was just putting those exact panels together to send you!
Yeah, I really enjoyed those pages. Fiumara did such a great job riffing on that early Hellboy look that for a moment I actually thought the issue was opening with a reprint. And on top of what Fiumara did, Stewart was there every step of the way. Notice how he’s making color choices you don’t usually see from him? He’s going back and riffing on what Mark Chiarello did in “Seed of Destruction.” I really though the whole sequence was brilliantly crafted.
And I think the shift to Fiumara doing the art in his own way really accentuates those first few pages. He’s usually so inky, and his lines look distressed, which is a stark contrast to the way Mingola works. Then when the frogs show up, in Fiumara’s own voice, they seem more sinister than usual. When they leap out of the water, the posing is very Mignola-esque, but the execution is something new and different. I think that this adds to that homesick nostalgia Abe, and by extension, the readers are feeling. These are the original Hellboy villains from back in the good ol’ days, but they’re different. Time has changed them and our memories of them.Continued below
Gosh I hope I didn’t go too off the rails!
Mark: Yeah, all I’m seeing in the art here is smart choices. Another thing to note is that Abe has spent most of the last three trades wandering around New Mexico. This amphibious man has been avoiding the water.
What I find interesting about this is in these flashbacks, Abe, Liz, and Hellboy go on a mission to… New Mexico. He’s been wandering around his past, unwilling to let go.
Mike: Do you think that’s a conscious thing he’s doing? Is he knowingly retracing steps in an attempt to recapture something he feels he’s lost? Or is he so distressed that he’s going through motions without even considering why he’s making them? That last one would probably explain his thousand mile swim, I suppose.
Mark: I’d say it’s been subconscious up to this point. But now he’s starting to see himself more plainly.
This is what really grabbed me at once about this arc. We’ve seen Abe several times in this ongoing series go to a town, meet new people, find out about their local problems, and look into it. This is very familiar territory. But it’s all different now, because in the past we haven’t been privy to Abe’s thought processes very often. Here, we’re seeing him plainly, just as he’s seeing himself plainly.
There’s even a line in there referencing the way this series began with Abe traveling to the Salton Sea to prove he wasn’t connected to the frogs. Abe calls his own bullshit, basically saying “What the hell did I think I was going to find?”
Mike: So do you think the time he’s spent in the Gulf was his last bit of aimless drifting? And did he come to Florida with a purpose, or is that just sort of where he washed up after his big swim?
Mark: I think at the beginning of this story he was still lost in his memories, and as the blue vanishes from the gutters, he’s coming out of himself. He sees the ruins of sunken Suwanee and goes to investigate. Properly this time.
Mike: So once this adventure is in the can, it’s looking like there’s nowhere for Abe to go but north. Unless he wants to swim to Cuba, but let’s operate on the assumption that he’s staying in The States. That’d mean it’s reasonable to see him working his way back to New England. Do you think he’s in a place where he’s ready to do that?
Mark: Not yet. Maybe by the end of this arc though. I already suspect Edith Caul, his wife from his previous life as Langdon Caul, has been following him. It certainly seems things are headed in that direction.
But let’s talk about the rest of the issue. I don’t suppose this is much of a spoiler given the covers for upcoming issues, but just in case, consider this your warning. Skip to the end if you want to remain unspoiled.
So… the frogs are back.
Mike: Holy smokes, the frogs are back. I was pretty surprised when they popped up, but Abe didn’t seem too taken by their appearance, which made me wonder when the last time we saw frogs was. There were some in captivity in New York, right?
Mark: All the frogs were wiped out at the end of “B.P.R.D.: King of Fear” except for a few at Zinco headquarters in New York. The last of those were killed by the Black Flame in “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Return of the Master.”
It’s worth noting, until now there have only been two Ogdru Hem able to create frogs: Sadu-Hem in “Seed of Destruction” and the Conqueror Worm in, well, “Conqueror Worm.” That makes the Ogdru Hem in this story something special, something we haven’t seen in the comics for fifteen years.
Mike: So how does all of this play into the Black Flame flashback panel in the issue? Do you think that Abe thought he may have escaped the destiny that was prophesied all those issues ago?
Mark: I think he wasn’t even really acknowledging the possibility that there could be a destiny to escape from. As far as he was concerned there was no link between him and the frogs. So he ran away from the Bureau to prove it… and then wandered around New Mexico.Continued below
Now, I think for the first time he’s actually considering the link between him and the frogs, and instead of denying it, he’s going to see if there’s any truth to it and what he can do about it.
And that is tremendously exciting to me.
Mike: I thought the sequence when he returns to the water was particularly telling. Besides his internal monologue, and his discovery that probably sets up the external conflict in the arc, there were a few panels of him just observing the frogs. It seems that neither side found the other to be a threat, because everyone just carried out their own business. Abe watched, they fed, and that was it. It almost felt… peaceful? I feel weird using that word, since there’s obviously no peace in Abe’s foreseeable future.
Mark: Yeah, the frogs aren’t overly concerned with Abe.
So we’ve been talking a lot about how I found this issue very different. How was it for you?
Mike: I think this issue may be the high-water mark for the series so far, and it leaves me feeling pretty excited for not just the arc, but the next chunk of this series as well. While issue to issue and arc to arc “Abe Sapien” has been a fine comic, there’s been a sort of repetition in how it’s all played out. I like to imagine that Allie has found a foothold and can maybe start sprinting towards something new, and shed some of the redundancy that’s been present thus far. I don’t want this to sound like anything but a compliment, but this issue is the first of this series that a part of me wasn’t left wishing Arcudi were writing it.
Mark: I think the high-water mark for me was “The Garden (I)” when Abe first met Grace. I loved the hell out of that issue. But for a while now Abe’s been adrift and the series has been adrift with him. This issue not only gives the series focus going forward, it gives context to prior issues too.
I have to mention the final pages of this issue. The way we lose all sense of up and down. It was so creepy. I don’t whose idea it was to turn the dialogue at an angle, but that added so much to the atmosphere.
Mike: So all in all a pretty solid issue. How do you rate this one?
Mark: 8.5 for me. Everyone did an excellent job. In particular, Sebastián Fiumara really impressed me with that opening.
Mike: I’ll say 7.5 from my side. Great art, lots to digest, and plenty of room for this to be an important story for the character.
Final Verdict: 8.