“Joe Golem: Occult Detective—The Drowning City” ends, but it’s only an adaptation the first half of the original novel. Despite this, the creative team found a cliffhanger that feels emotionally satisfying.
Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Illustrated by Peter Bergting
Colored by Michelle Madsen
Lettered by Clem Robins
Who will wield the enigmatic and unlimited power of Lector’s Pentajulum, and to what end?
Attacked by the mad Dr. Cocteau’s henchmen, Joe Golem and Molly are separated, leaving Joe mortally wounded and Molly taken prisoner. As the moment Cocteau has waited for to contact the Outer Dark draws near, Joe makes one last heroic attempt to save Molly from powers unknown.
Christopher Lewis: Before we jump into this book, I need to take a step back to talk about the previous issue as I missed the last review. I am still very surprised by Mr. Church’s sincerity about caring for Joe (even jeopardizing his own life to try to help him), and Church’s acknowledgement of having been selfish toward Joe. Having never read the prose, and only the comics, I have seen a progression in Church’s manipulation of Joe that culminated in the ‘ultimate transgression’ with Lorie. I never thought Church cared for Joe, only that he wanted to use him as a tool for his occult investigations, so the last issue brings a new light on Church that I am still trying to reconcile. Don’t get me wrong, I still despise the character for what he has done, but have softened a little based on what I know now. It’s really a weird mix of emotion.
Mark Tweedale: I figured that’d be the big rift between novel-first readers and comic-first readers. Honestly, the way Christopher Golden’s written Church, he’s revealed more of his character in the comics, but it’s had the paradoxical effect of us feeling like we know him less. I don’t mean that as a negative either—it works in the story’s favor. If Golden ever decides to explore more of Church’s past, I’d love to read it (especially if he does a short prose story titled “The One-Horse Carousel,” “The Case of the Silent Bell,” or “The Scarab of Tarquinia”).
Chris: I would too. He is such a multi-faceted character that we know very little about.
Now, can I just say that I absolutely loved this current issue of Joe Golem. In order to elaborate it is going to be pretty hard to avoid spoilers, so you have been warned. I can’t get over how fantastic Peter Bergting and Michelle Madsen’s art was here. There were so times that the story seamlessly moved back and forth from Joe’s lucid dream of being the Golem to him suffering from gunshots in the real world that I wasn’t sure if I was looking at reality or not, which was perfect based on what was going on in the narrative with Joe’s transformation.
An example of what I am talking about occurred at the beginning of the story where Bergting uses Joe’s hand constantly being outward as an anchor in the scene, so when we transition within the dream and back to the real world the similar positioning helps keep the change fluid. Also, Madsen uses similar colors for Joe and the Golem that helps with the seamlessness of the shift. For example the golem in the first panel is brown, then in the dream turns to Joe in a navy suit, and finally Joe’s jacket in reality is brown again. Sticking with the brown is another anchor that helps the transition.
Mark: I know we talked quite a bit about what Madsen does with colors in our previous two reviews, but I couldn’t help but be impressed again. Here we’re presented with a dream sequence… it looks like a flashback, and yet it’s not. Madsen uses the same family of colors for this sequence, but shifting the emphasis from the shadows to the highlights, which gives everything this ethereal look. I loved it. In a glance, I immediately thought, “Something’s different.”
Bergting and Michelle clearly worked on the transitions, because they read so smoothly. You can see it in the end of the issue, where Golden is going between Molly, Church, Joe… and it flows and isn’t disorienting, even when slipping between past and present.Continued below
Chris: You are right on. Also, the water sequences at the end of the issue continued the ethereal look that you mentioned earlier, and helped with the transitions.
While all of this wonderful art was going on, I have to say that this was the bleakest issue of “Joe Golem” to date. Hell, the scene where Molly got punched by one of the frogmen made my jaw drop. Bergting really made it look like she took a vicious hook to the jaw.
Mark: Yeah, but she came back from it like a champ. Before this miniseries began, a small part of me was worried they might hold back on Molly a bit, so while it’s terrible to see her captured, I love seeing her fight. Molly may need rescuing at the moment, but you could never really call her defenseless.
Chris: Definitely not. Even while captured she is not backing down. The part where she told the frogmen that Joe was coming and spit on the floor was fantastic. Molly is a great character.
Mark: I really enjoyed this issue. In fact, in this issue, more than any other of the previous four in this arc, I really feel the benefit of adapting Joe Golem and the Drowning City over two arcs instead of one. When you look at this issue purely in terms of plot, it could’ve easily been cut down to far less, but we gain so much by simply letting the characters be in a space without the plot demanding they do something. There’s space for an entire page of Molly staring down Dr. Cocteau’s frogmen and spitting at them; an entire page for Joe to sink to the bottom of the water; an entire page for Church to walk down a hallway with a twenty-year-old memory on his shoulders.
The pacing in this issue is excellent, slipping from the action sequence that wrapped up issue #4 into something languid and dreamlike.
Chris: Agreed. I think the only negative here is that the next issue of the adaptation hasn’t been solicited yet and I don’t want to wait to find out what happens. Hopefully the next five issues, which are called “Joe Golem: The Conjurors,” will come out soon.
Let’s grade this one. I am giving this issue a 9. This issue was a pleasant surprise and blew me away.
Mark: I’m going with an 8.5. The creative team took a sequence from the middle of the original novel and found a way to turn it into a satisfying cliffhanger for the comic.
Final verdict: 8.75 – “Joe Golem: Occult Detective—The Drowning City” ends on a high note, leaving us wanting more… which is good because ‘The Conjurors’ is due later this year.