And so begins the first big arc of Abe Sapien, “A Darkness so Great.”
Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Illustrated by Max Fiumara
Colors by Dave Stewart
Lettering by Clem Robins
Having joined a Santa Muerte cult, Abe settles into a small Gulf town with hidden ties to the zombie massacre he failed to stop in Arizona. With more lives depending on him than ever, will he fail again?
This is going to be an interesting arc. Instead of alternating arcs like they usually do, the Fiumara twins are alternating issues with Max handling parts one, three and five, and Sebastián handling issues two and four. These guys work together seamlessly, retaining their own distinct style, while maintaining a cohesive look for the series in general, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how this arc unfolds.
Straight up on page one there was a curious art choice. The story was told as a comic, an older comic from a bygone age, deliberately drawing attention to the fact that it is a comic, pulling out all the old clichés (complete with Ben-Day dots). It was an interesting way to open the story, it certainly grabbed my attention, but even after I finished the issue I don’t know why it was there. I assume this is something that will explain itself in later issues. For now though, it seemed a bit random, even a bit of a non sequitur. I can guess, that perhaps this is a lens Grace is putting over everything to distance herself from what’s happening, but there’s no real evidence in other scenes to back this up. Or maybe it somehow ties into the child, Megan. I don’t know. But I’m intrigued.
The other thing about this series is that each issue has a different primary point of view character, in this case, it’s Grace. When last we saw Abe, he and Grace had joined up with Dayana and her followers to head to Burnham, a town far safer than Rosario. Safety is something Grace has been longing for ever since we first met her, so it makes perfect sense to make her the main viewpoint character, and she’s the one that undergoes the most change throughout the issue. I’ll talk more about this below in the spoiler zone. What it will say here is this issue has one of my favorite scenes in the series so far. It was incredible. Unfortunately I can’t rave about it here.
However, this issue is burdened with a lot of exposition. Even after the previous two-parter, we still don’t really know most of Dayana’s group that well, and at the same time we’re being introduced to all-new characters living in Burnham, plus there are call-backs to characters from older stories. So in that sense the story becomes a bit unwieldy. This problem was also present in the last arc. It seems like the group is too big to wrangle, and I wondered why, so I went back and reread the previous arc, and I made a surprising discovery.
Supporting characters are rarely named in the scenes they’re in, and with a cast this big, it’s easy to lose track of who’s who. It really needs some name dropping. For example…
…Who’s that little girl? This is third issue she’s appeared in, but what’s her name? We’ll learn it later this issue, but here was a perfect opportunity to say “Watch it, Megan!” instead of “Whoa!” And furthermore, who’s Larry? Larry is only mentioned by name in scenes he’s not in, and for the first half of this issue, we have no idea who Larry is. We only know learn who Larry is because Abe and a few others say they’re going to meet Larry and then later those same people have another guy with them. So that guy must be Larry. It’s not a difficult leap to make, but it could be smoother.
If this was an isolated incident, it wouldn’t be a problem, but this has happened with a few supporting cast members. So if you look at the image below, can you tell me who the guy in the white shirt is?Continued below
I didn’t know either, but later in this issue he’s helping out around the house and framed rather prominently in one particular panel and I couldn’t figure out why. In fact, he’d made so little impression on me that on the first reading I wasn’t sure if he was a part of Dayana’s group or a local from Burnham (obviously I had forgotten the panel above by that point). It was only when I went back and reread “Sacred Places” that it finally clicked.
It would have been nice to have his name dropped again in this issue (especially as the women are all eyeing him while he’s topless). He’s a supporting character after all. Chances are most people are going to forget his name. We need the occasional reminder, especially with a cast as large as it’s become.
Another problem is the distance between what is being spoken about by the characters and what is unfolding visually in the scene. For example, later in the issue there is a sequence with Grace talking about Dayana and Carmelita to Megan’s mother. The problem is, when told secondhand like this, this information is only information. The scene would have been very different if Grace had been talking to Carmelita instead. The dialog about Megan could be retained, as she’s in the scene, so that connection can be made, but when we get to the second half of the scene, the story about Carmelita becomes personal, there’s a face to it that can express emotions connected to the information. A moment like this would have been in contrast to all the happiness of everyone settling into Burnham. It’s a way to show how they needed the safety of a place like Burnham on an emotional level.
Exposition is often spoken about like it’s a bad thing, but I don’t think it is, as long as the information in the scene affects the characters. There is drama in exposition if you look at it from the right angle. I’m not saying Carmelita needed to be in the scene, but it needed an added character element. I’m only critical of this because it’s been done so incredibly well in other issues (like Abe Sapien #14).
OK, with that out of the way, let’s talk about the really cool stuff.
Problem is, this stuff is all spoilers! If you want to remain unspoiled, skip ahead.
First up, Gene. It’s good to see he’s making a genuine effort to be a better person, and everyone’s giving him a real shot. He’s a nice addition to the cast.
In terms of plot, there’s some interesting stuff happening here. Mid way through the issue we saw a graveyard all broken up. This is something we’ve seen before, back in “Abe Sapien #9-11: To the Last Man,” however it wasn’t something Abe saw, so he’s unable to connect this with the disaster that happened in Payson. It added a bit of Hitchcockian tension to the issue, which was needed when you consider that all the characters are basically going, “Whew! Everything’s gonna be smooth sailing from now on…” and we know that it’s not. It’s going to be bad. Real bad.
The final sequence takes that tension and pushes it up to another level. This isn’t just another Payson waiting to happen, this is the epicenter of the whole thing. These last pages are electric. A lot of this is thanks to the groundwork done in “To the Last Man.” In that story we saw the horror unfold slowly, and got well acquainted with it. At the end we knew that group was still out there. In this issue we’re shown a map that makes it clear there’s more than one of these groups going around. Abe and company aren’t just in a bad place, they’re in the worst possible place. And we know these characters this time. We’re so much more invested in their fates. Not to mention, it’s nice to have a plotline return and evolve. Mr. Arbogast should make things very interesting going forward.Continued below
And then there’s that other part of the issue, my favorite part. This is Grace’s issue, and she makes a major step forward here. In the beginning, she’s still haunted by the death of her child. Seeing Gloria’s reflection instead of her own has been a recurring motif for a while now, so it was great beat to have her look at Abe, then look at her reflection and see herself for the first time since the accident, and then decide to talk to Abe. When the comic finds ways to express the story in visuals like this, it makes it much stronger.
This was an intense sequence, and I was really glad of the simplicity of the layout. The focus remains totally on Grace as she tells her story to Abe. Max Fiumara is just fantastic here. His performance through these drawings is so painful and honest. The framing stays on Grace’s face, but he found ways to use her hands too. He really sells the pauses in the dialog, and the transition from one emotion to the next. The somberness in Grace’s eyes as she says, “We were divorced,” is combined with the slightly lowering of her hand. It’s a small touch, but it makes such a difference. You can feel how just saying it drains her.
And I like that when Grace tells Abe about the death of her sister Sadie and her daughter Gloria, she can’t meet his eyes. And then on the page turn we see Abe’s reaction. He had no clue at all, and it hit him like a bus. And I love that as Grace leaves, he raises his hand to comfort her. He never actually gets to, but that gesture said so much more than words ever could. I’m hoping that the follow up to this scene is done without dialog. If Abe can just be there for her, that’s all it really needs.
I’m of two minds with this issue. It has a lot of exposition and set-up to handle, but I think it could have been handled better. I would have liked to have seen more weight on the visuals to tell those bits. That said, it ends well. The final scene shows real promise for the direction of this arc. The sleepy, settling-in period of this story won’t last long.
And the scene with Grace was perfect. Perfect. If I was rating that one scene alone, this issue would get a ten, hands down. Both Scott Allie and Max Fiumara blew me away there. I was so damn impressed.
But, it’s only three and a bit pages in a larger story, and I have to be objective about the rest of the issue. The story surged near the end though, so I’ve a strong feeling the next one is going to be better.
Final Verdict: 7.5.