A Darkness so Great comes to a close…
Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Illustrated by Max Fiumara
Colors by Dave Stewart
Lettering by Clem Robins
A tranquil Texas town, the last safe place in America, erupts in supernatural violence as Abe Sapien gets a true taste of Hell on Earth, and the lonely road he’s walked since leaving the Bureau gets even lonelier.
I think this whole review is a spoiler. Just letting you know in advance.
I liked this issue. It delivered some shocking moments and a beautifully melancholy one that is already a favourite of mine. However, most of the issue felt boxed in, hampered by exposition. Given enough breathing space, this issue could have built on the energy created by Sebastián Fiumara in the previous issue and gone to a whole other level. Instead, the exposition slowed down the action, diffused the tension, and robbed the emotional beats of their full impact.
That’s not to say there weren’t powerful moments in this issue. There certainly were (I’ll get to them later), but they were carrying dead weight. Often, when an ending doesn’t work, I find the problem isn’t in the ending itself, but rather the set-up, and that seems to be the case here, so I’m going to look back a bit at the rest of this arc.
All four of the prior issues have scenes that are only setting up one story element or retreading familiar territory. The ending would have benefited from those scenes being condensed, and the point of view story device used in this arc could have been a powerful tool to that end.
Grace’s issue in this arc is about feeling safe, settling in to a domestic lifestyle again, and coming to terms with her daughter’s death, while also fearing Abe’s apparent unease and his wish to move on. The issue could have stayed with her at the Burnham house, introducing the major story elements from her viewpoint and exploring her feelings about them. She could have had a moment with Megan that showed how happy she was to have a child around (and set-up how adults treat Megan like she’s fragile); thanked an uneasy Eliot for bringing them to Burnham (introducing him and setting up his guilt in the same moment); overheard Abe and Dayana talking about Abe’s wish to move on and find his home (furthering Abe’s plot while also showing Grace’s growing concern). The big story beat in Grace’s issue was when she finally talked to Abe about her past. That moment of breaking her silence could have been emphasized further if she hadn’t spoken to Abe throughout the rest of the issue. Superfluous plot lines, such as the group looking for supplies, could have been reduced to a few lines of dialog and a scene with them returning to the Burnham house with the mangled corpse of Gene.
The Megan issue, while it was my favorite, talked too much and demonstrated too little. We were told that Megan had grown up fast and was adapting to the new world better than the adults. I would rather have seen it. Imagine how different it would have been if it had been Megan and not Dayana that found Eliot after his suicide. Then through her eyes we could have seen the way adults treated her, the way the adults struggled to cope, while also showing Megan’s pain and coping mechanisms in contrast. Suddenly Megan doesn’t need a long dialog to explain things to Abe, just a few select lines that really hit home what he’s already witnessed about her.
Instead we have a scene in which the demon appears, then Dayana explains for the benefit of the reader that it was this demon that had possessed Tuck and used Eliot to bring everyone to Burnham. Dayana then flatly asks the demon why, and the demon replies, “I’ve taken my last command from a human,” and then spends the next four pages explaining why anyway. To me, that’s a serious story problem.
I think there was a desire to have this story driven by the mystery of Burnham, but it got in the way of the character elements, the focus of the overall plot, and even the pacing at times. All that talk in this last issue about Arbogast’s plan to force the rapture could have been introduced while Arbogast was still alive, when it could still generate story tension, demonstrate the depths of Arbogast’s insanity, and make him a more threatening figure in the reader’s mind. Exposition isn’t always a bad thing. It can be used to heighten scenes with its reveals.
But then it didn’t happen.
Sure, Abe got attacked by zombies, and by fighting back against them, he saved Burnham. But there was no moment of choice. Abe fought to save himself and Megan. His involvement was reactionary, not a choice.
The way it played out, Dayana was the one that saved the day, and Abe just helped out a bit. That wasn’t enough to fulfill the character moment that had been set up. Abe needed to realize the people of Burnham were in danger and make a conscious choice to do something about it.
Also, I would have liked to see the ending connect thematically with its beginning. This arc is about the safety of Burnham being torn down. The Burnham house was a symbol of this security, and I wanted to see that safety torn down right in front of Grace’s eyes in the most striking way imaginable. Throughout this arc Grace’s safe haven was contaminated by the death of Gene, the suicide of Eliot, the possession of Tuck… and in the final issue, when Abe murders Arbogast in front of Grace, I wanted it to happen on the steps of their new home in Burnham, the very same steps where Arbogast had welcomed them in issue one. As a bonus, it could have even echoed the scene from “The Garden” when Abe possibly killed Grace’s captor on the steps of his home.
That said, let’s talk about what works, because there was some really cool stuff in here. The fight with Arbogast was shocking, especially the “Give me your blood” moment, a moment that was then topped with Abe killing Arbogast. I know Abe was saving the day, but he really looked monstrous in that scene. Max Fiumara drew both moments with such intensity, and in both cases I didn’t expect the story to go that far.
The last five pages were the best, though. Abe reaching out to comfort Grace with a bloodied hand, the curtain of rain becoming like a wall between them, and finally Abe diving into the water and being swallowed by darkness… This comic always seems to work best when the dialog is kept to a minimum and the visuals tell the story. Here Scott Allie gave Max Fiumara many different ways to externalize the inner turmoil of his characters and the results are fantastic. The story beats are distilled to their core elements for maximum impact. It’s already one of my favorite Abe Sapien moments.
Dave Stewart blew me away in this issue. I feel like I don’t talk about what he does in these books enough, and when I do it’s always on a micro level. “Oh, look at this panel,” just doesn’t do him justice. This isn’t about pretty panels, it’s about storytelling. It’s about a progression. And that’s something you don’t see much of in an isolated panel. So I want to show you a macro perspective of Dave’s colors, an entire issue from start to finish.Continued below
From this perspective you can see all the major beats. You can see the oranges build up to Arbogast’s death, the demon’s puce-toned pages stark against the others, the greens getting darker in the final pages until everything matches Abe’s skin tone as he sets out alone into darkness. Through the colors of these tiny thumbnails, you can feel the heartbeat of the story, each emotional peak.
OK, I know it’s been a long review, but I have to mention the covers. Abe Sapien has had consistently great covers since it kicked off in 2013, but this series experimented with the layout, and the result was very pleasing. I enjoyed the use of inset boxes to show individual characters or story elements. The third is my favorite (such great atmosphere), but I especially like the symmetry between the first and last covers.
At the end of this arc Abe is in a pretty crappy place, but I have to say, there was a certain amount of satisfaction seeing him dive into the water’s depths instead of wandering away in a desert again. He was never going to find any answers there. The water is where he’ll find them. I’m sad to see him leave Grace behind, but it had to happen. She didn’t have it in her to go along with him any further, and perhaps now that he truly has nothing to lose, Abe can move forward unhindered.
Which brings me to that last question, what was that skeleton at the end? Could it be Caul’s wife, Edith? Any theories?
Overall, this last issue didn’t quite pull all its elements together. The demon sequence was especially talky and anti-climactic. However, there were some great moments, really shocking stuff with Arbogast, Dayana, and Abe’s act of murder. It ended in the right place too. Give me more stuff like that and I’d be very happy indeed.
Final Verdict: 7. There’s powerful moments in there, but inadequate set-up in earlier issues weights it down.