“Our Encounters with Evil: Adventures of Professor J.T. Meinhardt and His Assistant Mr. Knox” abandons the single story structure of it predecessor, 2017’s “Mr. Higgins Comes Home,” opting instead for a series of short stories. This makes the book feel markedly different, while retaining the established flavor for the series.
This review contains some spoilers medium spoilers, occasionally telling too much about joke set-ups and pay-offs.
Created by Mike Mignola
Written and illustrated by Warwick Johnson-Cadwell
Lettered by Clem Robins
Mr. Higgins was just the beginning! Follow Professor J.T. Meinhardt and Mr. Knox as they continue their pursuit of ne’er-do-well creatures of the night! Backed by the dauntless vampire hunter Ms. Mary Van Sloan, the heroes of Mr. Higgins Comes Home pursue vampires, werewolves, and other horrors that even they are hard-put to name or explain. The only thing that’s for certain is that the strange truths these adventurers uncover are seldom what they seem!
Mark Tweedale: Back in 2017, I remember finishing “Mr. Higgins Comes Home” with a big grin on my face, but also being a little disappointed there wasn’t more. I’d simply had so much fun, and Warwick Johnson-Cadwell’s world design felt like it really had legs.
Then Johnson-Cadwell started posting images on Twitter. At first they just seemed to be concept images for “Mr. Higgins Comes Home,” but they soon they started to show characters and locations and monsters we’d never seen before. They were tantalizing glimpses of what else could be… and since then those images evolved into “Our Encounters with Evil,” a collection of short stories chronicling the further adventures of Professor J.T. Meinhardt and Mr. Knox. So I feel like I’ve been anticipating this book the better part of two years now.
Brian Salvatore: I agree; the original work scratched a few itches, and the sequel, more or less, continues on the path that “Mr. Higgins Comes Home” started in on. I have a few topics I want to dig into, but the first is the differences between Mike Mignola’s writing and Johnson-Cadwell’s writing.
Mignola is often noted for his spare dialogue, and Johnson-Cadwell ratcheted that up even tighter this time around. I found this to be an exceptionally quiet book, and really enjoyed the added emphasis on visuals.
One note that I did have is that I felt Johnson-Cadwell somewhat softened Professor Meinhardt in this volume. There was a more acerbic tone to his speech in the first volume, and also a more clear sense of his (relative incompetence). Here, we got a more passive Meinhardt, which allowed each story to be more about the vampires/werewolves/creatures of the night than it was about Meinhardt and Knox.
Mark: I would describe the Meinhardt of this volume as more cowed. There’s a scene right at the beginning of “Mr. Higgins Comes Home” where a vampire goes to attack Meinhardt while he’s sleeping and Meinhardt fends him off while declaring, “We’ll have none of that.” The Meinhardt of “Our Encounters with Evil” however never admonishes evil. In fact, after “Mr. Higgins Comes Home” he seems to have learnt that there are times when he can be out of his depth.
In some ways, I missed the absurd unearned confidence of the character, yet at the same time I see the value in changing him. Meinhardt is not a static character and he will be affected by his adventures. So Johnson-Cadwell does this fantastic thing where Meinhardt can be sitting in a bar, take a look around at all the nefarious characters within, and decide to leg it out the window. His confidence has a dent in it now and his self-preservation kicks in.
As you say, “Our Encounters with Evil” put much more emphasis on visuals. There’s humor in the book that I imagine only exists because Johnson-Cadwell is both writer and artist. There’s a moment in this where he got me to laugh out loud at a scene transition. I love that playfulness. And yes, there’s a definite difference between Mignola’s writing and Johnson-Cadwell’s, but the two coexist rather nicely.Continued below
Brian: Oh yeah, I didn’t mean to imply that the change in tone was jarring or anything, it was just more of a comment on how the books feel different. I think that this book, with its even more passive ‘main’ characters, allows the stories themselves to shine in different ways.
Let’s get into those stories; ‘The Death of Lady Ruthven’ kicks off the book, and instantly transports us back into the feel of the first book. While not a lot ‘happens’ in the introduction, it leads nicely into ‘The Lost Duke Kurtz,’ and it features my favorite sound effect of the book: ‘stab stab stab.’
Mark: I got to chat with Johnson-Cadwell about this series and it turns out Ms. Mary Van Sloan, who plays quite a prominent role in this introduction, was a rather late addition to the book as a whole. So here’s a character that could’ve been introduced in one of the later stories, but instead shows up right away at the beginning. I’m glad she does too, because it gives “Our Encounters with Evil” a striking identity right away. Sloan brings out a different energy in the character dynamics, and indeed even in the action. She’s more like Indiana Jones, flinging herself onto the carriage and incurring plenty of bodily harm in the process.
The first proper story, ‘The Lost Duke of Kurtz,’ loses Sloan rather quickly and returns to the dynamic more familiar in “Mr. Higgins Comes Home” with just Meinhardt and Knox. For me, this feels a bit like a warm-up tale, focusing more on atmosphere and the two leads than the actual plot. It’s more meandering than the two that follow, and a little more episodic. It’s sort of feeling around, discovering what it is as it’s being written.
Brian: I can’t really disagree with that, though I will say that this is my favorite of the stories, from a pure plot perspective. I find the solution to the Kurtz problem to be a really well thought out one, and an elegant solution to the problem that is presented. I also like that Lodzarak being a kind of colony for vampires and crooks a lot of fun. I am restraining myself from making an Australian joke here, I’ll have you know.
This is also the most outright humorous of the stories. From the aforementioned ‘escape through a window’ gag, to Knox’s retrieval of his penknife to take so long the sun sets, this chapter was a thoroughly funny affair.
Mark: No argument from me there! Still, if I had to pick a favorite, it’d be the next story, ‘Blackwater.’ I feel like this is where Johnson-Cadwell really leaned into the visual humor. At one point there’s a brilliant gag showing an epic vampire battle that happened, but it’s being described to Meinhardt and company, and they can’t see any of this epic battle. So there’s this fantastic contrast between what we the reader can see versus what the characters in the story can see.
‘The Lost Duke of Kurtz’ has a clever ending, but ‘Blackwater’ is almost the opposite. It’s stupid (and I mean this in the best possibly way) and relies almost entirely on the visuals to sell just how wonderfully stupid it is. It’s so high energy and yet Meinhardt, Knox, and Sloan spend most of the story standing there just watching it unfold. It had me laughing till tears were running down my cheeks. What can I say? I find the absurdity of it irresistible.
Brian: I actually found this by far the dullest story of the bunch. I didn’t dislike it, but it didn’t quite grab me as the others did. Part of that is, perhaps, that I saw the ending coming once we began to see the battle between Taganrog and Pietros. But not only that, I felt that it totally eliminated the need to have any of ‘our’ characters appear at all. Their entire purpose in this story was to be told a story. I did laugh at the visuals of them being told the story, onomatopoeia and all, but I found the story lacking.
That said, I could look at Johnson-Cadwell’s artwork all day long and never bore. The battle between Taganrog and Pietros was dynamic and engaging, and kept your attention, despite it being two characters introduced a page ago. The bat-people were also amazing; their design is part horror, part pure comedy.Continued below
To me, the detective work of the “Kurtz” and the cat and mouse game of “Siegfried” did far more for me than this relatively spare tale.
Mark: I find it interesting that the element that didn’t work for you was the one that made it for me. Meinhardt and company being almost entirely superfluous was what really got me. There’s that sense that if they hadn’t shown up, the whole thing would’ve taken care of itself.
In the last story, ‘Siegfried,’ I can really feel the Meinhardt and Knox world expanding. Johnson-Cadwell even seems to be laying the groundwork for future volumes since ‘Siegfried’ leaves a few story threads dangling, and the epilogue all but confirms this, since it’s basically a teaser for a third volume. Personally, I hope we get more characters like the The vampire-hunter hunter because as much as I enjoyed ‘Siegfried,’ I wanted more time with the character.
Brian: I wholeheartedly agree; this story seemed like the piece that busts the book out from ‘sequel’ to ‘series.’ As I mentioned before, this was a wonderful cat and mouse game, and I really enjoyed the back and forth aspect of the story. Plus, I think this had my favorite Johnson-Cadwell imagery of any of the stories.
So, we’ve talked about the contents, but what do you think of the book as a while? How would you grade this?
Mark: I’m giving this a 9. The greatest strength of “Our Encounters with Evil” is in the variety of its stories. Each feels distinct and opens up a new corner of this world. Johnson-Cadwell has successfully taken the concept for a one-shot and seamlessly converted it into a series. It’s a longer book than the original, and me being greedy, I was very pleased by this, but most importantly the book had a sketchbook section. If I could find any fault with “Mr. Higgins Comes Home,” it would be its lack of sketchbook section and I’m glad Dark Horse has sought to rectify that oversight for “Our Encounters with Evil.”
Brian: I’ll give it an 8, if only because the middle story left me a little cold. But this has me incredibly excited for the continuing adventures of these characters.
Final verdict: 8.5 – “Our Encounters with Evil” is a worthy sequel to “Mr. Higgins Comes Home,” never living in its predecessor’s shadow.