The Lobster’s crusade against the robots wreaking havoc across Manhattan continues, taking a most unexpected turn!
Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Illustrated by Tonci Zonjic
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
The face-off against giant robots continues as Lobster Johnson’s investigation leads him to a woman whose story reveals the ancient origins behind the machines’ gleaming exteriors.
Mike Romeo: Ho. Ly. Smokes. I did not expect an ounce of what we were given in this issue! What last week seemed like a Fleischer-esque action story has quickly turned into something very different. Now we’re embroiled in a story that’s got it’s roots dug deep into the pre-history of the Mignolaverse.
Mark Tweedale: I know, right? This one totally blindsided me… but in a good way. I won’t talk about the big connection stuff yet—I’ll save that for the spoiler zone below—so I’m just going to start from the beginning: the cover. I love Tonci Zonjic’s covers, I can’t get enough of ’em, but this one is especially good. No, it’s not one of those covers with a deeper meaning or anything like that. This image is simply a moment from the story… but it is gorgeous to behold. I love the depth in it and the scale that depth creates. The restraint in the color palette gives it fantastic atmosphere. If I’d never heard of Lobster Johnson before, this is the kind of cover that would make me sit up and take notice.
Mike: Agreed on every point. Zonjic’s covers always feel so clean to me. Obviously a big part of that comes from his slick line style, but the colors are a major component as well. This image is an especially nice example of his use of color to emphasize style, as he not only uses it to expertly convey depth, but also to communicate light and setting. The way he uses those greenish-blues to set that robot back and create light that not only cuts through the water but lingers on the its surface is astounding. And none of it is over-rendered, which plays well with his cartoonist’s approach to linework.
And I couldn’t be happier with the moment he chose for the cover, as it was one of my favorite moments of the issue. Not for any big, narrative reason, but because it was a good, subtly absurd comic book moment. Seeing The Lobster swimming around in his full get-up was a good, adventure comic moment to have before the larger world came knocking. I mean, can you imagine swimming around in that boots/jacket/gloves combo?
Mark: Nope. I can barely imagine swimming normally. I swim like a rock.
This issue was a very disarming one for me. The last few one-shots have been fun, but they were essentially just really well told pulp-inspired stories. Nothing wrong with that at all, but it made me come into this one making certain assumptions. There’s a certain amount of tragedy in this story that surprised me. Hell, a lot of things surprised me. I mean, you could have told this same story and play it as straight pulp, but Mrs. Aliyev’s story added more weight to the story. She found herself driven to do something terrible, and you know, I actually admire her bravery.
Mike: For sure. And I think you’re right about the run of issues leading up to this. They were good, fun jaunts that sort of lived in their own little pocket, right? So when this one kicked off with the giant robots and the explosions, I was expecting that to be the substance of the story. Which’d’ve been totally cool, seeing as how much I loved the issue.
And speaking of assumptions, after reading this issue I went back to the last for a reread, which made me realize that I’d made so many of them! Obviously, the biggest was that the robots were robots for robots’ sake, right? But even the little glimpses of Mrs. Aliyev we cast with my own expectations. “And there’s the femme fatale,” I thought, like it was something on a checklist. Arcudi can be a real sly writer when he wants to be!Continued below
Mark: On the first issue I figured Mrs. Aliyev’s soul was somehow tied to one of the robots and two other individuals were tied to the other two robots. Everything else was a surprise. I’ve got to give it to Arcudi, he played his hand well.
OK, I’m going to dive into spoilers. So this story ties into “B.P.R.D.: The Warning”. These robots are made in the same way that the Hyperborean war machines were made. The addition of this connection to the larger Hellboy Universe mythology was not something I expected, and ramped up the stakes in this story in a big way.
There was a certain joy, too, in seeing Tonci Zonjic drawing something so far outside a standard “Lobster Johnson” story when we followed Emin’s journey underground. We strayed into “B.P.R.D.” or even “Frankenstein Underground” territory, and I really liked that. I was reminded not just how adept Zonjic is at drawing anything, but how he draws it to the degree that he can convince you this is what he excels at. When I read “Who Is Jake Ellis?” I thought that kind of spy story was optimal for his style… then I saw him on “Lobster Johnson” and thought the 1930s were optimal for his style… then I saw a pin-up he did of Abe Sapien, and then a pin-up of Hellboy, then science fiction images for last year’s Inktober… I’ve the feeling now that he can make practically anything his own.
And that works so well here. “Lobster Johnson” is a New York–bound story (well, at some point the Lobster goes to Chicago, but that story hasn’t been told yet), but for a moment we get to see what Zonjic could do with a 1930s Indiana Jones or Tintin-esque globetrotting adventure story. And boy, does he deliver.
I’m sorry if I’m gushing a bit too much, but I had a blast with this story. Script and art—and I haven’t even mentioned Dave Stewart’s colors yet—weren’t just excellent, but surprising in a way that made me appreciate “Lobster Johnson” anew.
Mike: You’re spot on with all of the praise for Zonjic. He’s just so damn good at everything he does. I’m actually a little worried that he’s maybe too good and that we’ll lose him to The New Yorker eventually. Can’t you see that? His cover art in rotation with folks like Clowes, Ware, Hernandez and Tomine?
But that’s a tangent, and in no way related to the spoiler tag you enacted, so let’s get to brass tacks. I was floored when Aliyev walked into that giant chamber that we’ve seen before. You already mentioned “The Warning,” but I also reviewed “Hollow Earth” at your suggestion, which was interesting for a few reasons. First, I forgot how good Ryan Sook and Curtis Arnold looked on it. They were surely doing their best take on early Mignola, weren’t they? But what I really thought was interesting was all the subterranean, art deco inspired machinery that’s introduced. Looking at it all, I felt a little silly that I didn’t catch on to what was happening sooner, but hindsight is always 20/20, I suppose.
To circle back to the art in that “Hollow Earth,” it’s clear that Sook is paying respect to what Mignola had already done in the universe. To a degree, he’s doing stuff on the page that we’d not really seen from him before. It’s still Sook, but almost as if through a filter. And that’s something we’ve encountered a lot of through the history of these books. Artists, whether they realize it or not, bend their look towards whatever Mignola had been doing at the time. It never comes across as something that’s mandated, and I doubt Mignola would be so pleased with himself to demand clones, but it’s there. It’s probably just that it’s fun to try and draw in a Mignola-esque style.
This is coming back to LoJo I swear, just hang with me!
Later in the “B.P.R.D.” run, we see Guy Davis’s take on these same subterranean machines. For folks who have the hardcover omnibus, there’s even a page devoted to Davis working out some of his ideas for these machines and robots. So, when Arcudi passed Zonjic this script, there was a lot established for this setting. But this is where the magic of these issues comes into play, because Zonjic clearly studied all of that. The thing is, he didn’t fall into mimicking any of it. What he’s putting down on page so clearly draws from the concrete history of this world, but is presented as if it’s something entirely new. He could have easily decided to do it like either Mignola or Davis and, since those guys are so damn good, no one would have said boo about that. Instead he enhanced the surprise reveal in this issue by finding his own way to approach pre-established design parameters.Continued below
I’m sure a share of this is due to Arcudi, seeing as how it was written in that these robots are a revised version of what was found down in the hollow earth. Zonjic was given the inspiration for these robots, and allowed the space he needed to play within a theme. It’s fantastic to see a writer and artist work so well together.
I know that was a bit of a tangent, so now I’ll be the one to apologize.
Mark: I don’t remember where now, but I distinctly remember John Arcudi saying he’ll continue doing “Lobster Johnson” as long as Tonci Zonjic is drawing it, so clearly there’s a strong working relationship there. Zonjic has a fantastic eye for design. It shows in his covers, his page layouts, and in all the details of 1930s New York. And when Arcudi throws in something extra outrageous like Aliyev’s robots and the Hyperborean robots, it gives him fertile ground to play with.
That said, “Lobster Johnson” can’t go on forever. The Lobster’s career spans from 1932 to 1939, and I couldn’t help but notice this story is set in 1936. 1937’s already been covered in “The Iron Prometheus”, so it would seem that although the end of the series isn’t quite at our doorstep yet, it has certain broached the horizon.
Mike: Huh, I hadn’t even considered that. I’m not eager to see this series reach its end, but I’m sure it’ll be a hell of a show! And maybe it’ll even lead to a “Ghost of Lobster Johnson” series, right?
Mark: I’m kind of hoping for a pirate Lobster story myself…
Mike: I ate up a lot of the word count with my rant up there, so do you want to pin a score to this one?
Mark: This is a 9 for me. This is up there with my all-time “Lobster Johnson” favorite, “Caput Mortuum”… and depending on how it ends, it may even become my new favorite.
Mike: I’m right there with you, Arcudi and Zonjic are outdoing themselves with this one. I’m giving it a 9, too.
Final verdict: 9. This issue hangs on to the Fleischer-inspired narrative we gushed about last week while firmly planting itself in the bedrock of the universe around it.