Kim Newman and Maura McHugh come on board as writers for a new miniseries of Witchfinder…
Written by Kim Newman and Maura McHugh
Illustrated by Tyler Crook
Colors by Dave Stewart
Lettering by Clem Robins
Edward Grey is sent to Hallam to investigate a mysterious death. Once there, he hears rumors about the mysterious Unland, the wetlands around the town, and the creatures that inhabit it. Grey’s skepticism vanishes when he encounters the monsters of Unland, and he realizes that Hallam is a place of secrets.
The Mysteries of Unland is a very curious book because it’s a Mignolaverse book without Mike Mignola’s name on the cover. He’s taken a step back from this one. And it’s given the series an opportunity to grow, especially in regards to tone. While Sir Edward Grey does occasionally display some dry wit, he’s always been a rather serious character, and in previous Witchfinder miniseries, the tone of the books often reflected this. The Mysteries of Unland is an interesting departure in this matter. While Grey himself may be brooding, the tone of story around him isn’t equally so. It can be when it needs to be, but it can also be downright playful. Playful! Who’d have thought? I wasn’t expecting that.
And I really liked it.
I suppose I’d mentally drawn a circle around a group of ideas and mood and said, “That’s Witchfinder.” In my mind I knew what the book was. But there’s a sequence in this issue involving a police constable’s theory that was completely outside my mental circle… and it was one of my favourite parts of the book. Newman and McHugh are making the circle bigger, enriching this world.
That and the book has never felt quite so, well, English before. And I jolly well like that!
The story’s extremely new reader friendly too. Witchfinder has always been written so that each miniseries stands alone as a complete book, and The Mysteries of Unland continues that tradition. Without any background knowledge of the Hellboy Universe at all, a new reader could pick this issue up with no trouble at all.
Another tradition the book has had is to change artists for each new miniseries. And it’s a tradition that I hope stops here because, OH MY GOD, Tyler Crook is THE perfect Witchfinder artist. If you’ve seen the previews, you’ll know he’s handling the art very differently from the way he handles B.P.R.D.. His ink washes look amazing, but the way the story is written, he got to play with another style for two pages. I don’t want to say any more about that, lest I ruin some of the fun, but Crook nailed it.
His character work was excellent, especially Constable Lawless and Grey himself (some of Grey’s disapproving looks spoke volumes), and there’s a fantastic action sequence in there. Let’s just say, the man knows how to draw creepy eels.
And Dave Stewart really shines in this book. He finds a way to colour the locations in a way that connects to the emotional truth of the scene. When Sir Edward Grey gets off the train, the colours are, well, swampy. It feels like a town that’s built on a swamp, even though there’s nothing other than the colour in the image to suggest otherwise. The morgue feels sickly, drenched in greens. This is coming from Tyler Crook as well, but I loved that in the hotel sequences, the top of the rooms are darkest. It’s like a cloud is hanging overhead the whole time, full of doom and gloom. It’s nothing you’ll notice on a conscious level when you’re reading it, but it changed the way I felt about the proceedings.
This is what I love about Dave Stewart’s colours in everything he does. He isn’t very concerned with the literal colour of scenes. His colour functions more like a musical score does in a film, chiefly concerned with emotional and tonal realities instead. Frequently the colours externalise Sir Edward’s own feelings. Tyler Crook and Dave Stewart not only made this book look good, they told story with every single panel. You can go through this book from start to finish without reading a word, and you’ll still be able to follow Sir Edward’s journey, knowing how he feels about the characters he’s interacting with and the environments he’s in.
Definitely pick this book up. It’s pushing Witchfinder‘s boundaries in story and art and it’s better for it. The creative team on this one works fantastically well together. I hope this is the first of many Witchfinder books from them.
Final Verdict: 8.5.