Joe returns in the two-issue arc The Sunken Dead.
Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Illustrated by Patric Reynolds
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
A search for the source of a signal picked up on Simon Church’s paranormal detector leads Church and Joe Golem to a mansion in submerged Greenwich Village, where a millionaire is going to supernatural lengths to recover what the Drowning City has taken from him.
Back when I read the first issue of Joe Golem, I was immediately drawn into the somber and mysterious world of the Drowning City through Mr. Church’s eyes. However, the story soon shifted to Joe and we didn’t really see much of Mr. Church for the rest of the arc.
In this issue, Mr. Church plays a much bigger role. Right from the beginning, we again see that his world is truly different from others’. His machines and knowledge of the paranormal reveal what’s bubbling beneath the surface.
In this case, trouble’s brewing.
Meanwhile Joe’s life is very normal. He’s dating Lori Noonan, he’s drinking root beer, he’s going for a picnic… by contrast Joe’s life is incredibly normal. But this is also a bit of a minus for the story, because it’s the least interesting scene in the issue, and on top of that it gets encumbered with all the exposition that explains what’s been going on in the month and a half since the last arc. It’s a short sequence though and things quickly pick up afterwards.
The later half of this issue is great. Again Patric Reynolds gets to show off what he does best, mysterious libraries, secret chambers, underwater scenes, and corpses. There’s a sustained action sequence in there that was really fun too. Thanks to Patric Reynolds’s work in blocking out the scene and Dave Stewart’s colors, we get a real sense of space. Having a brightly lit tank in a dim room really helps this too, as the light source is an effective way to orientate the reader. Considering this is an action sequence that requires the characters to move through the scene—closer to the book, towards the tank, away from the fire—there’s tremendous tension generated by the awareness of the spatial relationships in the scene.
That and the scene carries quite a bit of exposition for an action sequence. Actually this does something I love. Exposition is often spoken about as a necessary evil in stories, but I truly believe exposition is full of dramatic potential. The right bit of information at the right moment can ramp up tension, turn a scene on its head, or bring about a powerful emotional beat. The trick, I believe, is to do it in concert with something else.
Christopher Golden does this several times in this action sequence, delivering bits of exposition in a piecemeal fashion, each new element altering the stakes or clarify the goals. The whole second half of the issue was really well executed, and set the stage for an exciting conclusion next month.
The first half of the issue didn’t really click with me though. This story is set a month and a half after the first arc, so there’s a bit of set-up going on. That and I’m still not feeling any chemistry between Joe and Lori. In their scene together they didn’t feel like a couple that have been dating for a month and a half, but like a burnt-out couple that have been married for ten years and are just going through the motions. This isn’t just a script thing either, the composition of the panels and the colors in this scene emphasize the mundane rather than the romantic.
It makes me think this could be deliberate. I doubt this plot will be explored further in next month’s issue, but perhaps Joe is forcing a relationship to make himself feel normal. We’ll have to wait and see. But I really don’t get a sense of Lori’s attraction to Joe at all, and since this is pretty much her sole function in the comic at the moment, the character remains nebulous and vaguely defined.Continued below
Lori’s body language is closed and stiff. She doesn’t look like she’s on a day off, she looks like she’s in the office, waiting for her boss to finish talking so she can get back to her cubicle and finish the mountains of work waiting for her there. This is particularly a problem because she gets understandably pissed off at Mr. Church in the second half of this scene, but there’s no contrast in her body language, so the moment loses its impact. Take away the speech bubbles and you don’t get the same sense of hurt from Mr. Church’s casual insult.
I very rarely have something negative to say about Dave Stewart’s colors, but Lori really needs to wear colors other than pink. I mean, occasionally is fine, but I’m beginning to think her entire wardrobe is pink. I don’t know, maybe this is a character thing, but it’s really not working for me.
It gets a bit spoilery from here on.
The other minus for this issue was the golem flashback. I thought they were an over-used device in the first arc, but at least those scenes were connected to Joe in the present as he remembered bits, and they affected his mental state. In this issue, these scenes are pure flashbacks, not memories. They aren’t told from the Golem’s point of view; we’re seeing stuff that Joe is completely unaware of. The result is a four-page scene that’s completely disconnected from the plot. If you bypass it, going from from Mr. Church saying “I’ve got to find Joe” to the Joe and Lori date scene, the pacing of this issue works much better.
This is a difficult thing to judge because I don’t yet know what this flashback is setting up or if it’ll pay off in the next issue. And it’s not like there’s a better place to put this scene. Virtually everywhere else it could have been placed would have had an even more detrimental effect on the issue’s pacing.
There’s no fault in this four-page sequence itself. Looking at the sequence in isolation, it’s an interesting story. Goran’s a sympathetic figure, and I have no trouble imagining him being able to support a short story. Patric Reynolds draws this flashback material beautifully. The opening establishing shots of the city as Mirek rode to the monastery drew me into that world, and I liked the way the sequence transitions from one point of view to another.
In the beginning this is Mirek’s story, and all the shots reflect his feelings and motivations. When he first sees Goran, his face is lost in shadows. This is a friend doing something that Mirek believes is wrong, so we get that sense that Mirek doesn’t truly know Goran anymore. When Mirek sees the golem, the shot is looking up, emphasizing the horror of it.
The switch comes on the third page of the sequence with the close-up on Goran’s face. We are invited to empathize with him as he tells his tale. Suddenly his face is no longer lost in shadow, or hidden to over-the-shoulder reverse shots. Now he see his pain. Then we see the golem as Goran sees it. We look down on it so that it looks non-threatening. There’s a shot of Goran’s hand touching its face. We get a sense of the hope it represents.
All through the last page of this scene, Miren is a tiny figure and Goran is the large figure. His point of view has won out.
I say all this because I want to point out that the visual storytelling here is nothing less than excellent. The scene in isolation is well-crafted and powerful, and every panel has meaning beyond merely framing the action. But, frustratingly, this sequence has nothing to do with the rest of The Sunken Dead.
The first half of this issue is pulling in too many directions. The disconnected flashback followed by the weak Lori and Joe scene hurt the pacing rather badly, and the story seems to struggle to get started. However, the second half is firing on all cylinders. If it can maintain the energy set-up here, the next issue should be fantastic.Continued below
Final verdict: 6.5.