The penultimate issue is here!
Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Illustrated by Max Fiumara
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
The necromancer Gustav Strobl demonstrates his newfound power as Abe Sapien reaches England in the final calm before the storm of Dark and Terrible.
Mark Tweedale: Mike, we’re nearly at the end of this. As it is, this issue is already an ending of sorts, as it’s Max Fiumara’s final issue for “Abe Sapien”. And yet, it doesn’t feel like we’re one issue away from the ending. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like there could be a whole trade more full of stories, because there is so much left still to wrap up and cover. Lately this series seems to be crammed full of major reveals. It’s a lot to take in in a short period of time.
Mike Romeo: Yeah, it really feels like there’s so much left to cover! But I felt the same way going into the “Hellboy in Hell” finale, so there’s precedent, I suppose.
This was a really striking issue, both in terms of art and narrative. Seeing Abe’s semi-euphoric state of being contrasted with not only Strobl’s sinister new look and Alice’s sorrow made for some really dynamic storytelling.
Mark: Yes, this is definitely a story of contrasts. Even in the five-page preview we ran on Monday, there was this mixture of hope in this new world tree growing in a kind of paradise, and yet as you observed, it was also simultaneously funereal.
This story is also the end of a thematic trilogy which began “Abe Sapien #12: The Garden (I)”. The first three pages even return to the three-landscape-panels-per-page format of that story. “Abe Sapien” #12 remains my favorite issue of the series, so I found those pages… not exactly satisfying—they were deliberately not, in a way—but… appropriate, I guess. It was the right way to wrap up that plotline.
Another thing I mentioned in our preview post, and I’m probably going to rave about this a lot for this issue, is Dave Stewart’s colors. This issue feels like a trip through so many different locations and moods (some of which I really wasn’t expecting!) and Stewart keeps blowing my mind page after page. I can’t pick a favorite scene in this book color-wise. I like too many. I mean, there’s a simple scene in there of Abe lying on his back, just looking at the stars and he’s surrounded by green almost exactly the same color as his skin. Looking at that one image, you get it straight away: Abe feels like he belongs here. Stewart even changed Abe’s eye color away from their usual blue-ish color to more of a green in this scene just to push the effect further.
Mike: There was a panel on that page that stuck with me, too, though not that one exactly. Two before the one you mention, we see Abe nestled into the grass with a sort of dopey look on his face, almost like he’s in the midst of an extraordinarily happy moment. It feels so carefree to me.
To stay on the color track, though, I found that this issue had some parallels with the first few “Hellboy in Hell” issues. Back when those hit the stands, I recall feeling like Stewart was coloring Hellboy in a way that made him feel like a real part of his environment, which drew contrast to his bright-red coloring we’d been so accustomed to. It made me realize that he was where he was supposed to be, and that he’d maybe never really fit here on Earth. Now, a few years later, we’re seeing a very similar thing happen with Abe. Not only is he surrounded by lush greenery, but it all seems to be the same green that he is. Like if he stood totally still you’d lose him in it all, you know?
Mark: Yeah, there’s very much that sense of the characters taking on the qualities of their environment. The surrounding colors bleed into the characters and vice versa, and because of that it feels like these environments have power over the characters in them or that the environments are an extension of the characters. For me, that pushed every scene further, and made them grander, more mythic or dream-like.Continued below
And there are a lot of locations to play with in this issue too. From Grace’s new home (which was a paradise considering how much of the world is in “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth”), to England, to Saint-Sēbastien, and finally to a place I can’t mention due to spoilers. Each is radically different from the last, and each is fascinating in its own way. The locations are so enticing and vividly realized, I could have spent an entire issue in each one of them. It’s an unusual thing, but this issue is really driven by the scenery, not just in a scene or two scene, but in every single moment.
Mike: Since you brushed up against it, let’s get a spoiler warning out there. We’re getting into it, starting now!
So, before we get to the setting you hinted at earlier, which I’m going to need some explanation on, let’s talk a bit about Strobl. When we talked about the last issue I wondered aloud about the gestation period Strobl would need to complete his transformation, and it seems that question has been addressed. I got the distinct feeling that there may have been a significant amount of time between issues 34 and 35, though I don’t know that I can say why. Maybe it’s how comfortable and settled into the world Abe is? Or maybe it’s because of how complete Strobl’s transformation was.
Though there is something on Saint-Sēbastien that throws all of my ideas about time out the window.
Mark: Well “B.P.R.D.” actually pulled ahead of “Abe Sapien” in the timeline a while back. The time that Grace and Abe traveled together was actually only three weeks, although for readers it spanned nearly a year. “The Garden (II)”, when Abe spoke to Maggie was in happening in parallel with the events of “The Devil’s Wings” (when Kate got possessed) and “The Broken Equation” (when Johann and Enos were in Japan). “Regressions” occurred some time before “End of Days”, so Abe could have been in England for months… many months.
From the opening with Grace and Megan and Jim, I get the feeling it’s maybe been over a year since the end of “A Darkness so Great”. Megan certainly looks a little taller to me. She was twelve when last we saw her, but here should be maybe fourteen. But even within this issue itself, the time frame could be quite broad. The events on Saint-Sēbastien and the final scene with Gustav could be separated by months. This issue almost feels like a montage, and even Abe says he’s not sure how much time has passed. I think at this point it’s meant to be a bit disorientating. Although by the end, it’s pretty clear “Abe Sapien” and “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth” are back in synchronization again.
Speaking of Strobl’s transformation, I wasn’t expecting to see him emerge as a ‘Mach II Sapien’, if you know what I mean. I was expecting him to look more like the old Abe. It shows how fully he’s trying to take his place, but it also shows how much better he understands what Abe is and how his body works and what its purpose is.
Which brings me to my frustration with Abe. He spent the whole series running from his past, and when it was revealed at last in “Regressions” and “Dark and Terrible Deep”… he starts running from his future! God damn it, Abe!
That’s not to say I’m frustrated with the story—I really liked this issue—but I also really want to slap Abe.
Mike: Yeah, he’s really become a one step forward, two step back kind of guy, hasn’t he?
I like your explanation of the timeline, particularly the bit about this issue being something of a montage. My reading of it may have been more linear than was intended, as I supposed that everything we saw was happening concurrently.
Can we dig into those last few pages? I’m going to assume that they were more impactful for you than me, for the simple reason that you seem to know where that scene takes place.
Mark: Yeah, the lair of the Bog Roosh! Oh man, was I thrilled to see that sequence! As soon as I saw that it was under water with those colors and that little bit of text saying ‘Elsewhere’ I had goose bumps. “Hellboy: The Third Wish” is among my all-time favorite Hellboy stories. It’s when the “Hellboy” series dived head first into full-blown fantasy, and it was such a beautifully haunted story. And it turns out that place is still haunted. The last mermaid still remains, trapped as the new Bog Roosh, kept company only by the ghost of her father, waiting quietly in the dark.Continued below
Her father said he’d stay with her until the end of the world, and it’s here now.
Mike: Ah, it all makes sense now. The Jars, the ghost, somehow I didn’t put it all together.
Mark: There was a particular moment that struck me here: when Strobl is asked if he is a warrior, he admits that is what he wants to be, which is in stark contrast to Abe. Abe doesn’t want to go back to the Bureau to fight, he refuses to use guns, and he’s been told time and time again that he is not destined to be a warrior. Strobl is trying to take on Abe’s role at the end of the world, but he’s also perverting that role.
Man, I really can’t see how this is going to wrap up with only one issue left. At this point I’m convinced it’ll simply tie “B.P.R.D.” and “Abe Sapien” back together again just in time for the next big story cycle.
Mike: Interesting, you assume that Abe’ll be around for the next cycle. I was of the opposite thought, what with all of Alice’s cryptic dialogue.
Mark: I was meaning the series more than the character.
Mike: OK, gotcha. Anything else before we wrap up?
Mark: I’m curious what you thought of the Saint-Sēbastien section of the story. We’d already seen this location in the last issue, and while it was creepy, when this issue introduced a sole survivor it took that creepiness to a whole other level. Seeing this poor woman slowly succumbing to the island’s invasive growths was damn uncomfortable to read. It was genuinely distressing. Few things creep me out like the idea of something growing into a person’s body.
Mike: I’m glad you brought that up, because it was something that tripped up the timeline for me. I couldn’t wrap my brain around how there’d be a survivor still hanging around. I mean, her presence was used to great effect, but it did trip me up a little.
Mark: That didn’t really bother me since we don’t really know enough about what is taking over the island. We see glimpses, but it’s vague enough that I can invent a bunch of stories about it. Maybe she found shelter in the passages used by the witch’s son in “Abe Sapien: The Drowning” until that growth burrowed down into the earth. Maybe she had some protection that had once belonged to the witch that worked to ward off the growth for a while.
Mike: Yeah, good point. I’d have also accepted a reminder that we were just referencing a story about mermaids!
Mark: I have my own problems with how the timeline is handled in the Hellboy Universe. It works perfectly until about 2006, then it starts to get a bit messy as the publishing dates slipped out of synch with the stories (like the way Abe was unconscious and in a tank for four months after being shot by Fenix, but for readers it was two years). I wish they’d found a better way to mark time, because sometimes it does get a bit confusing. Having “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth” and “Abe Sapien” running parallel and yet out of synch probably made those problems more pronounced, but for the most part, I think they found iconic scenes to reference each other so that even though the reader doesn’t know the exact dates of events, the events and locations themselves are iconic in a way that connects them to specific stories. Like when the events of “The Reign of the Black Flame” connected to “To the Last Man”, Panya was wearing a very iconic apparatus on her head that was only even seen in that moment. It connected those two stories instantly.
So in the final scene, did it come across that it was set shortly after the arrival of the Ogdru Jahad in “End of Days”?
Mike: I don’t know if I felt it was shortly after, so much as just at some point following. Again, weird timelines.Continued below
Wanna put a grade to this one?
Mark: As far as the plot was concerned, this was a breath before the storm. After so many densely packed reveals over the last seven issues, this was surprising light. Basically Abe found out who he was and was like…
For me, this issue was more about the art than the story. It truly was a beautiful issue for Max Fiumara to bow out on and Dave Stewart’s work was nothing less than incredible here. I’m giving it an 8.5.
Mike: The issue has plenty of exceptional art, which is par for the course with the series as a whole. Aside from some minor nit picks, I’d say this one comes in as an 8 for me.
Final verdict: 8.25. A stunningly beautiful issue that teases big things for the “Abe Sapien” finale.