“The Pirate’s Ghost” is truly a “Lobster Johnson” story unlike any other, digging deeper into the character of the Lobster than ever before…
Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Illustrated by Tonci Zonjic
Lettered by Clem Robins
The Lobster’s search for a missing reporter comes to an explosive end aboard a pirate ship.
Mark Tweedale: I must say, this issue of “Lobster Johnson” surprised me. I had certain expectations going in, and again and again they weren’t met. When this happens, it can often leave me frustrated or unsatisfied, but in this case I found it elevated the issue. At the end of this arc, I can’t help but say this is my favorite “Lobster Johnson” story to date. How’d you find it, Chris?
Christopher Lewis: I have to agree with you, and would go farther to say that this is probably by far my favorite issue of “Lobster Johnson.” Outside of this issue going in directions I never expected, I really enjoyed that we got to see multiple characters put into crisis situations which forced them into revelations and character growth. From a larger perspective, this issue was satisfying as it was the culmination of many events that have occurred with Wald throughout the entire “Lobster Johnson” run. Also, Tonci’s art and colors during the main conflict blew me away, but I don’t want to get into spoilers just yet.
Mark: Honestly, this being the final issue, I’m going to have a hard time avoiding spoilers at all, so let’s dive into ’em. When Arcudi took the helm for “Lobster Johnson” with “The Burning Hand,” he decided to take the story back to its beginning, to 1932, the year the Lobster first appeared in New York City. Since then, the story’s continued on chronologically (well, for the most part) and during this time Wald and Isog (first introduced in “The Burning Hand”) have sat in the sidelines, waiting and plotting, and all the while my expectations for their next step have been building up.
A big part of that build up came from their research in the Lobster’s past, that he may have been related to a pirate called ‘El Bogavante.’ This culminated with Isog giving Wald a mummified left hand with the Lobster’s symbol on it in the form of a birthmark. Mysterious, eh? Now, in “The Pirate’s Ghost” we have Wald haunted by the ghost of El Bogavante, always carrying the mummified hand around with him, and Isog planning something terrible for the Lobster. For the first time, it seemed like the Lobster was going up against enemies with some understanding of his true nature, enemies that could use this information against him.
And then this issue utterly defuses all of that. The mummified hand is just a regular hand, the birthmark a mere tattoo made with food dye. Isog isn’t a mastermind, he’s just a guy trying to re-engage his boss. It seems Wald has been growing increasingly unfocused ever since his wife, Gina, saw him hacking up a corpse back in 1929. It’s been eating away at him, and driving him further and further into a fantasy world.
This issue turns everything upside down. Suddenly the Lobster isn’t in danger at all, and the villains come off as hapless by comparison. You’d think that this would destroy the tension and the story would fall in a heap, but instead, something more interesting emerges out of our ruined expectations.
We get to see the Lobster more clearly than we ever have before―and he is monstrous.
Chris: Yes, we do. The Lobster has definitely evolved throughout the series. Not only as a character, but also in how Arcudi has depicted him in the stories. In past issues the Lobster killed people, however it was always during a conflict or the Lobster trying to stop a larger villainous plot. In this issue we see the Lobster perform cold-blooded murder of a helpless and broken Wald.
The only other time I can remember the Lobster killing helpless antagonists was in the “Garden of Bones” one-shot that came out earlier in the year. The killings in “Garden of Bones” occurred at the end of the story and were implied as the final panel only showed the background of a graveyard with the sound of gun shots. The implied presentation doesn’t give the reader the full effect of the murder. However in this issue of “The Pirate’s Ghost” we see the full, atrocious act occur, and it did not leave me with a good taste in my mouth.Continued below
The Lobster also appears to be becoming more detached from his own mortality. Throughout the series whenever in conflict he ran, took cover, tried to avoid bullets, etc., but in this issue he acts as if he is impervious to bullets or just doesn’t care if he gets killed. This is shown in an amazing scene by Tonci where the Lobster is standing on the old pirate’s ship coming after Wald and, while a multitude of bullets are whizzing by him, he just stands there as if doesn’t care if he is hit.
Mark: I have a theory that the Lobster transfers his spirit into the body of a nearby victim if he dies. He seems to get a bit reckless right before making a certain kill. In this particular case, he blasts the banks with cannons, killing Wald’s entire gang in one go. So his being cocky here seems to make a kind of sense to me. Plus, it makes him inhuman―he’s like a force of nature.
Chris: That’s a very interesting theory. I personally like to think that the Lobster’s drive to deliver his own brand of justice is the impetus for everything he does, and this obsessive drive pushes him forward to not only perform acts above that of a normal man, but to survive regardless of the injuries he sustains. Even in death we know his ghost remained to help the B.P.R.D. defeat Memnan Saa in “The Scorched Earth” trilogy and to help Hellboy against the Nazis in the “Conqueror Worm.” He is definitely something extraordinary, and I like the way you put it—a force of nature.
While we may never truly know the Lobster’s background, here Arcudi gives us revelations into the Lobster’s nature. I was also happy to see that many characters came to their own personal revelations throughout the climax of the story. The most impactful was Cindy realizing that she had to stop pretending that Harry wasn’t involved in murderous acts by helping the Lobster, and Harry realizing he wasn’t a cold-blooded killer by not being able to kill Wald. Of course after those revelations, which gave depth to these characters and showed their humanity, the Lobster just kills Wald, which heightened the impact of Wald’s death.
And of course there is poor, poor Mrs. Gina Wald. She has been comatose for so long, and when she finally comes to she watches the Lobster exercise justice on Wald. The irony is that Mrs. Wald has now become a victim of the Lobster. Where is her justice?
Mark: Yeah, that sequence was powerfully transformative. “Lobster Johnson” is a pulpy, fun series―and everything in this arc up to this point was too―but then this moment comes along and the tone veers in a wildly different direction.
Of everything in this miniseries, John Arcudi and Tonci Zonjic’s careful control of tone has been the aspect that’s impressed me most. At times Wald is buffoonish and playful, others scatterbrained and distracted, but then he straight up murders Isog and we’re reminded that this guy was (and technically still is) a crime lord in New York and he’s dangerous. And then he becomes pitiful when he sees Gina again.
The veering tone of Wald’s story strikes me as emblematic of the tone for “The Pirate’s Ghost.” I mean look at the comedic dialog between two goons in the opening scene and compare it to where this issue ultimately goes. “The Pirate’s Ghost” had the set-up of a fun-filled adventure with the promise of a showdown with two long-running rogues, but then everything went off course, the rogues’ plans imploded, and the masked hero that cries out for justice dishes out a brand of justice that seems downright inhuman.
So I want to explore why this works. Under normal circumstances, if you string me along for years, setting up villains with grand plans, and teasing connections to the larger mythology, then I’m not going to be satisfied when it all evaporates right under my nose. When expectations are subverted, the reveal has to be more compelling than the reader’s expectations, otherwise the they’ll be left unsatisfied.
Simply put, it works because of the characters. We’ve been conditioned to expect a certain lightness to the character work in “Lobster Johnson”―to the point of even being almost black and white. In this final issue of “The Pirate’s Ghost,” our expectations are subverted and we get shades of gray in Isog, Wald, the Lobster, and (most importantly) in Harry.Continued below
Basically, I was expecting a plot-based punch to the guts, but I got a character-based one instead, and it was immensely satisfying.
Chris: I am with you on this. The way Arcudi presented the finale, after all of the foreshadowing that has occurred since “The Burning Hand,” was unexpected, but actually made for a better and more special story.
I also keep thinking about how amazing Tonci’s colors are in this issue and how they have been throughout this entire mini-series. One thing I have found interesting is that Tonci has been using a common theme of colors throughout the entire arc of “The Pirate’s Ghost,” that has made the story flow together seamlessly from issue to issue. Orange being the most prominent color throughout, and in this issue Tonci creates magic by using almost exclusively two colors, blue and orange.
The first eight pages of this issue are all depicted solely in blue showing the night sky, the sea, and Wald’s and his goons hiding in the darkness. The sea and sky are shown in multiple shades of blue giving an organic life to the background. Within the darkness Wald kills Isog and takes Cindy from the boat house to the shore like a thief in the night. Finally the Lobster shows up riding on the pirate’s ship and we start to see little bits of orange color appear. Orange being the polar opposite of blue, foreshadows the upcoming conflict, until with a bang the ship explodes filling up the night sky with orange light. The explosion permeates through night with orange hues that over the next few panels steadily fade as the darkness creeps back in.
After the explosion, the embers from the fire appear to be dancing in foreground. They seem to be playing in what becomes an emotional minefield, as Cindy, Harry, and Wald are stripped away to their emotional core. Then the tension fades and with a bang… the panel goes completely white and we forget about color as the Lobster shoots and kills Wald with blast of justice.
This whole time Tonci has only given us blue and orange and the drastic change to white at the climax makes the murder scene all the more powerful. I think I have read this issue four times already and when I get to this part I am still enthralled as if I am reading the book for the first time. The story, art, and colors work together like poetry.
Mark: That moment of white when Wald gets shot was also dealing in the same color language Zonjic established in issue #2 for Gina and the trauma she’s been through, but instead of white and red, we get white and rust orange. It makes this moment feel like an old wound reopened.
I also liked what he did with the colors in Cindy and Harry’s final scene at the train station. It’s bathed in yellows, just like their first scene in issue #1 when they exit the cinema together. Both scenes are about fantasy and stepping into reality, especially for Cindy—she’s reached that point where she can no longer be with Harry if he chooses to stay with the Lobster—and the yellows really highlight that fantasy feel and that sense of ending you get from a sunset. Tonci even went so far as to color the linework, so there’s a density to the lighting. For me, this made it feel like a cheesecloth-over-the-lens moment from old films without literally being that.
So, are you ready to put a score on this one?
Chris: Definitely. This is without a doubt a 9. Arcudi and Zonjic outdid themselves.
Mark: This is a 9 for me too. “The Pirate’s Ghost” is quite simply the best “Lobster Johnson” story. And I can’t wait for the Chicago story teased near the end!
Final verdict: 9. “The Pirate’s Ghost” is “Lobster Johnson” at its very finest.