• Feature - Abe Sapien: Dark and Terrible Deep Reviews 

    Mignolaversity: Abe Sapien #34

    By and | June 8th, 2016
    Posted in Reviews | 13 Comments

    Mignolaversity Logo

    Abe Sapien returns to the place where Langdon Caul found the mysterious egg that transformed him 150 years ago. This issue changes things in a big way, folks.

    Cover by Sebastián Fiumara
    Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
    Illustrated by Sebastián Fiumara
    Colored by Dave Stewart
    Lettered by Clem Robins

    In this standalone story, Abe seeks answers in his most crucial and secret place of origin, where his destiny is revealed.

    Mark Tweedale: This is an odd way to start a review, I know, but the solicitation blurb is a strange one. This is hardly what I’d call a “standalone story”. I don’t know. Maybe I’m too close to see it properly, but this story was building on so much groundwork laid down in both “B.P.R.D.” and “Abe Sapien”, it’s probably one of the more mythology-heavy issues in the entire series. This is the sort of story that if someone told me they were going to read it, I’d hand them a required reading list to get through first.

    Mike Romeo: Like you said, it may be a matter of proximity skewing how we see this one, but I totally agree. I don’t know how this could be considered to be standalone in any sort of way. I mean, if this was your first crack at the character, or even a return for someone who’s lapsed, I can’t see how much of it’d make sense. If anything, I’d say that this is the most insider issue of the series so far! Seemingly every page harkens back to something, or is some sort of nod to continuity.

    I know whoever wrote the solicit probably meant that this isn’t a multi-parter, but that doesn’t make it any less weird or misleading. Even as entrenched in this stuff as I am, I still feel like I need a roadmap to keep up.

    Mark: Yeah, me too, but we’ll get to that later, because that’s a pretty major rabbit hole to go down this early in the review. Instead, I want to talk about what Sebastián Fiumara’s doing in this issue. There are a lot of similarities between the Fiumara twins, but there’re also some pretty striking differences. One thing Sebastián seems very deft at is incorporating someone else’s art style to evoke their stories. He’s been doing it in his flashbacks throughout the series, but it was really in #24–26, ‘The Shadow Over Suwanee’ arc, that he threw himself into it. Since then he’s used it to modulate scenes. Like in this issue, there’s a scene with Abe and Shonchin walking along chatting, but look at that background.

    That background is so 2010s Mignola… but not in a way that pulls you away from looking at Abe and Shonchin. You don’t sit up and go, “Oh, he’s doin’ Mignola!” Instead it leaks into the mood of the scene and flavors the dialogue. It’s a powerful way to make connections without being explicit. I feel like he’s getting more nuanced with this technique with every new issue, so I’m always really excited about seeing his storytelling evolve with each new issue.

    Mike: It’s always a treat to see that stuff. I think of it as the most clever editor’s note in comics, you know? Instead of a footnote that points the reader towards the specific issue being referenced, Sebastián opts to use these shifts in art to evoke a sort of emotional remembrance of what’s being cited. It feels more like a memory than a direct reference. To me, at least.

    Mark: Yeah, it being a visual footnote that is more felt than known is a good way to explain it. And I think it also explains why Sebastián’s approach works instead coming off as an imitation—he uses it just enough to elicit those emotions and no more. There’s restraint

    Mike: Another aspect of the art I really enjoyed in this issue was the way Sebastián began reconstructing the city around Abe. For as brushy and expressive as he can be, Sebastián still has a very literal way of thinking about his art. He’s not afraid to get in and really render a scene, you know? Because of that, once you see the walls and pillars around Abe begin to rebuild themselves, there’s no ambiguity about what’s happening. The environment around him is changing, and because Sebastián’s art made the promise of literalness, it’s as clear to us as it is him.

    Continued below

    Mark: The city forming around Abe was a fantastic visual. There’s a real sense of movement there, and like you said, you get that sense of space at once.

    So how did you find Saint-Sēbastien? This was a location I’ve looking forward to seeing again since the ongoing “Abe Sapien” series was announced. So, y’know, there’s been this steady raising of expectations there. And then we finally get to see it again in this issue, and boy does Sebastián deliver. There was a even a nice reference to Sir Edward Grey’s visit in 1884.

    There’s a panel in there with an upshot on the church with the crucifix visible, and I was grinning ear to ear looking at it.

    Mike: It was way more horrific than I thought it’d be. Those growths with all the bodies tangled into them, the pool of bright, red blood, I honestly didn’t expect such a nightmare. Even Strobl’s approach to it was a little frightening, with the black, oily slick he left trailing in the water. I’m sure that the juxtaposition of settings helped accentuate all of that, with Abe strolling through such vibrant scenery that’s springing to life all around him.

    The way Saint-Sēbastien felt to me colored the big thing that happened in this issue in an interesting way, but I’m not sure if you want to go there yet. I will say though, that the last page-turn in this issue was an absolute shocker.

    Mark: Screw it, let’s go there. Spoiler time.

    OK, before we talk about the events at the end of the issue, I think we need to discuss what we learned with Abe, because that in itself is pretty mind blowing, but it’s also the context we need to understand the Strobl stuff.

    So the spirit inside Abe is some form of ascended T’shethuan shaman. I gotta say, I didn’t see that coming. Like, not even remotely. In retrospect, it makes some issues earlier in the series have a reason for existing. ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ arc, for example, seemed to be rather inconsequential at the time, but looking back the shamans that were at the centre of the myths in that story were the T’shethuans, so Abe was actually learning about his people before he knew they were his people.

    Mike: I’m with you, I didn’t see that coming either. But it’s not an out of the blue sort of thing. Like you said, there was the bit about the shamans, and then the whole thing with Bruttenholm looking for a third entity inside of Abe, so the seeds have been sewn. But I actually had to reread that part a couple of times to make sure I was interpreting it correctly. Not because of anything in the art or narrative, but because it was such a surprise.

    We’re at a point now where the endgame is approaching, so I can’t help but wonder how this revelation about Abe’s nature is going to play into the big “Hell on Earth” finale. After seeing Johann move into the Sledgehammer suit, and Liz’s powers multiply, I sort of imagined we’d see a certain leveling up for Abe, too. If I think about it in Dungeons and Dragons terms, Johann is the tank and Liz is a sorcerer, and I’d have figured Abe would wind up being a ranger of some sort. He’s a good soldier, he’s resourceful and has proven he can live off the land, so it seemed natural. But to wind up a holy man? I gotta say, I never saw him as the priest type.

    Mark: Well, the holy man is only part of him. He’s still Langdon Caul too. And he’s neither. Abe’s his own person, and ultimately he’ll be what he wants.

    I think we are going to see Abe return to the Bureau, or at the very least work beside them, in the final story cycle of “B.P.R.D.” We’ve already seen what Shonchin can do—his trick of cutting off the Black Flame from the source of his power is what allowed Liz and Johann to kill the Black Flame. So maybe that’s a preview of Abe’s role in the future and he’s more the sorcerer in your analogy.

    Continued below

    What I’m curious about is the egg that transformed him, because now it’s clear there’s more than one. How many? Are they all ascended shamans? What ties the shamans to Oannes? And what has Gustav become?

    Those final pages were really weird for me, as they kind of threw an assumption I’d unconsciously made right in my face. I’ve no idea why, but when Abe saw the spirit in the Saint-Sēbastien church in “Abe Sapien: The Drowning”, I didn’t think it was external. At that time I’d connected that spirit to Abe to the exclusion of all else. My interpretation was that when Abe saw that spirit, he was seeing it as a vision of something inside himself, as though the church that worshipped the spirit inside him acted like a mirror that allowed him to glimpse an aspect of himself he wasn’t consciously aware of.

    I think it’s fair to say that clearly wasn’t the case, and in fact the scene was far more literal than I’d expected. That spirit was another entity, and now that spirit has merged with Strobl to create… Gustav Sapien, I guess. Wait, that can happen?

    This is one of those endings that made me go, “Holy crap! That’s really unexpected and worrying turn of events… but I don’t understand it well enough to draw further conclusions. Strobl being a sapien though is clearly bad news.

    And, as a side note, this completely transforms my understanding of the cover. I saw it as symbolic, Strobl looming over the spirit inside Abe. Now I see it’s obviously something else.

    Mike: That’s interesting about your assumption, as the same scene made me realize I had my own, different idea about things. I figured that the spirit that made Abe what he is was an external force, like a possession of sorts. But I had also, on some level, always just thought that it was the only one, and that as an extension, Abe was the only one. Seeing what happened to Strobl threw so much up in the air for me, and raised a ton of questions. Who’s spirit is that? Are they selective about who they turn into sapiens? If so, what is it that Strobl and Caul share that made them worthy candidates? But the biggest question of all has to be whether or not this is end of Strobl’s story for now. Abe was in that tube for a long time, and I always sort of figured that it was because he needed a gestation period. So if that’s the logic, wouldn’t Strobl need at least some time to have this transformation take hold? I think it’d be a little disappointing, but maybe this is less a set-up for the finale of this series, and more for something to come in the next “B.P.R.D.” cycle. Am I off my rocker?

    Mark: I don’t think that’d be a problem for me. The series has always been more about Abe’s journey than his conflict with Strobl. I mean, they didn’t even cross paths until last month’s issue. Before that, Abe didn’t even know Strobl existed. Actually, I sort of figured Strobl would roll into the next story cycle of “B.P.R.D.”

    As for the gestation thing, Abe’s gestation period was actually relatively short. Langdon triggered the egg April 9, 1865, and he’d completely transformed by May 1. However, he was kept in stasis for a very long time after his companions fled the country.

    At the end of this issue, Strobl seems to be in one of the intermediate stages. I wonder if he’ll lose his memory like when Langdon became Abe. Will he emerge with connections to his former lives, but essentially a new person?

    And I wonder what Shonchin’s going to do now. And what about the other shaman that appeared to Strobl at the end of “Abe Sapien” #26. Who is that guy? For an issue that was full of huge reveals, and a lot of answers, I find myself with more questions than ever before.

    This is a transformative issue. It’s changed certain moments in the Hellboy Universe for me. Like when Shonchin saves Abe in “B.P.R.D. King of Fear”.

    Continued below

    Looking back, this moment has an extra dimension now. This is Shonchin rushing in to save his closest friend.

    Mike: Holy smokes, you’re right!

    It feels weird to do, but I guess we’re going to have to leave this one with a bunch of question marks. Big stuff happened in a kinda quiet way, some of which I think we’ll have to wait a while to see resolved.

    Let’s get to scoring! As we said, this issue is far from the ‘standalone’ it’s been billed as, and I’d say is more of a turning point for the future of this character. That said, I thought it was an issue that fulfilled me as a longtime reader and excited me for the future.

    I’ll give it an 8.

    Mark: This one had big revelations and lots of questions, but it all comes about in a quiet way. I was thinking about it still a week after I first read it. So while I would have initially given it an 8, the fact that it stuck in my brain like that gives it an extra 0.5 from me.

    Final Verdict: 8.25. Huge revelations abound in an issue that will stay with you long after you finish reading.

    //TAGS | Dark Horse at 30 | Mignolaversity

    Mark Tweedale

    Mark writes Haunted Trails, The Harrow County Observer, The Damned Speakeasy, and a bunch of stuff for Mignolaversity. An animator and an eternal Tintin fan, he spends his free time reading comics, listening to film scores, watching far too many video essays, and consuming the finest dark chocolates. You can find him on Twitter @MarkTweedale.


    Mike Romeo

    Mike Romeo started reading comics when splash pages were king and the proper proportions of a human being meant nothing. Part of him will always feel that way. Now he is one of the voices on Robots From Tomorrow. He lives in Philadelphia with two cats. Follow him on Instagram at @YeahMikeRomeo!


  • -->