“Witchfinder: The Reign of Darkness” was always going to be a turning point for Sir Edward Grey—he’d never leave the service of Queen Victoria lightly, after all—and in this latest issue, the big changes start happening. Read on for our spoiler-filled review.
Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson
Illustrated by Christopher Mitten
Colored by Michelle Madsen
Lettered by Clem Robins
After consulting Panya about the Ripper case and Asquiths suspicious connections with the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra, the Witchfinder sneaks into the Brotherhood’s temple. But he’s completely unprepared for the informant he finds there! Meanwhile, a turn in Sarah Jewell’s undercover operation in Proserpine Home suddenly makes her search for the truth much more urgent.
Mark Tweedale: I really like the cover of this issue—the design says “I’m a Hellboy Universe book” loud and clear—and yet, it gets ahead of the reveal in this issue. Granted, I’m pretty sure many readers still figured that vampires were in play in this miniseries, but it’s still a reveal we haven’t gotten to yet, so it’s unfortunate it’s right there on the cover. It’s not a big deal, but I want a cover to tease the story, not tell it before the story gets a chance to. That said, it’s such a great cover and it doesn’t work without that vampire inset, and if I had to pick between preserving a small reveal and this cover, I’d probably pick the cover too.
Christopher Lewis: While this miniseries has had a lot of callbacks to “Witchfinder: City of the Dead,” I never expected there to be any vampires in this story. I thought vampires were a one-and-done kind of storyline, so I would have preferred for it to have been a surprise.
However seeing Panya on the cover made me excited to read the comic. Panya and Grey banter is always fun.
Mark: Yeah, I love Panya. As much as I enjoyed her in “B.P.R.D.,” she feels unfinished. There’s more I want to see with her—but I don’t think we’ll ever see it in “Witchfinder.” At this point in her history, she’s basically under house arrest, so while I love seeing her, she’s pretty much restricted to banter.
I enjoyed seeing Sir Edward break into the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra’s Universal Temple. There’s something about the way Mitten draws temples and artifacts that immediately puts me in the mindset of an Indiana Jones film. However, this is where I lament the format a bit, because with a twenty-two page issue, there’s only so much space they can give this sequence before it becomes indulgent, and I really want the indulgence. Mitten draws great action.
There’s a certain amount of plot progression we expect in each issue, ‘The Reign of Darkness’ #3 absolutely hits the sweet spot for me. I think it does a good job of giving the action moments enough space to breathe. Still, it makes me wonder what Roberson and Mitten could do if they were working in a different format, like an original graphic novel, where they could afford to take this eight-page sequence, and make it something like thirty pages, so they can push how dangerous it is for Sir Edward to be on the HBR’s turf and how narrowly he escapes.
Chris: That would be awesome. One of the key parts of this book was the HBR scene, and I really wanted more for the same reasons you mentioned.
And now I am getting into spoiler territory. Another key part of the story for me was the way the Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard acted toward Grey when he refused Grey’s request for support. The Chief has disdain for Grey, like “Oh great, this fruit loop is asking for me to arrest people again.” Over the last few issues there have been many scenes where people have explicitly shown they are tired of Grey and his unorthodox investigations. In the past story arcs I always thought people’s sentiment toward Grey was one of fear and respect, but now it feels like some people think of him as a joke. This is shocking to me as he is doing the Crown’s business, but people don’t seem to care.Continued below
Grey also doesn’t come off as formidable as he has in the past. Like he has become beaten down somehow. I know Grey left ‘Her Majesty’s Service’ after the conclusion of the Ripper case, and we have always thought it was over the identity of the Ripper, but maybe it was also because Grey was tired of dealing with leaders in London who didn’t take him seriously.
Mark: Yeah, it seems that while we’ve seen his big, successful missions, we’ve missed the small ones where he’s been wrong, or at least been unable to prove the truth to others. He hasn’t had a perfect run, there have been failures, and in the eyes of others, this seems like just one more failure. After all, the previous cases we’ve seen are set over short periods of time. ‘The Reign of Darkness’ begins in November, but Sir Edward’s been on the case since August. And he’s not the easiest person to work with either. We’ve seen in the past that Sir Edward is dismissive of everyone else until they prove themselves to him in some way, and I get the feeling a lot of police officers would’ve been really fed up with him after working with him for almost ten years.
Chris: Good points. Your comment about Grey being dismissive brings up something that has been bothering me with this series, and that is the lack of facial expression in Grey. In every prior series the artists have shown some great moments of Grey’s contempt, anger, arrogance, etc. through his facial expressions and eyes. However, I don’t feel Mitten has put enough emphasis on Grey’s expressions here. A great example is the Chief Investigator scene we have been discussing. I would have expected to see some emotion in Grey’s face when the inspector told him no, instead there was only a side shot of Grey versus a frame of his face being angry or contemptuous.
Mark: I think this is probably an issue exacerbated by changing the artist with each arc. Mitten does do the contempt in Grey’s face, but nowhere near as much as other artists, and we’ve just come off an arc from D’Israeli, who pushed the contempt more than any other artist to date, so we’re swinging from extremes. It’s a bit like changing the actor playing a role.
Chris: I see your point and will go back and review the last few issues for the contempt you mentioned. It’s just that Grey has been defined by many things over the years, and the two big ones for me are his attitude and lack of poker face, so I am looking for more. An exception to my previous statements is when Grey realized there was something wrong with Bailey. That was the first time I noticed Grey’s expressive face, and for good reason. That was an emotional scene.
Mark: We don’t really know Bailey, so readers won’t have much personal investment in his death, but I felt like it was a powerful scene for Grey. I especially liked that from the first moment Grey realizes something is wrong, his first concern is Bailey. It speaks to his character. If this had been played differently, with Grey only worrying about Bailey after he sees his body, the scene would’ve been significantly weaker.
Plus this was a moment that benefited from the consistent location design. We’ve seen Grey’s office a few times now, and the design has been kept consistent from artist to artist, so this isn’t just a random room on fire. I think it was Ben Stenbeck that first came up with that iconic circular window that immediately makes the room recognizable. It’s one of those subtle things that works mostly on a subconscious level, but it adds weight to a moment like this.
And I guess this partially explains why the B.P.R.D. has had trouble finding all of Grey’s journals—some would’ve been burned here.
Chris: You hit it on the head. I am betting the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra will have hell to pay in the next issue.
How about we grade this one? I am going to give this one a 7.5. A fine issue setting the stage for what’s to come.
Mark: I agree with that grade. It’s a 7.5 for me too.
Final verdict: 7.5 – Another solid issue of “Witchfinder: The Reign of Darkness.” With this set-up, it looks like #4 is going to be a big one. . .