In the penultimate issue of “Witchfinder: The Reign of Darkness,” Sir Edward finds himself without allies in the wake of Bailey’s death. This issue shows us a desperate Sir Edward the like of which we haven’t since Mary Wolf’s death in “Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels.” 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
With one of his closest confidants dead at the hands of the Heliopic Brotherhood, his home in a shambles, and his allies dwindling, the stakes are higher than ever for the Witchfinder. Pursuing the suspected sorcerer Gordon Asquith with a newfound desperation, Sir Edward Grey sinks further into danger even as Sarah Jewell creeps closer to answers in her undercover operation inside Proserpine Home.
I only have one quibble with this issue, and since it occurs fairly on, let’s just get it out of the way so we can focus on other things. In the open scene of this issue, I wanted a fiercer Sir Edward. I’ve said this before about some moments in issue #1 and Chris brought up the same point in issue #3, but here, given Bailey’s murder, I felt like Sir Edward was too subdued in some panels. It’s not a fault in the art, it’s just an acting choice that doesn’t quite mesh with Ben Stenbeck, John Severin, Tyler Crook, and D’Israeli’s portrayals of the character. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments when Sir Edward fires up and the character that lives in my head is there on the page, but there was one panel in particular that struck the wrong note for me.
Honestly, this wouldn’t bother me except that this arc is supposed to be a breaking point, when Sir Edward is severed from Queen Victoria’s service. Since Sir Edward’s dialogue inclines towards the classic “restrained Englishman” type, I needed the art to push the contrast between what he’s saying versus what he’s feeling.
With that out of the way, I’ve got nothing but praise for the rest of the issue. A few pages in we get a bit of a time skip, and this was a place where I really appreciated what Christopher Mitten was doing with the art because the time skip isn’t just a montage of what Sir Edward is doing paired with date in captions. We see the passage of time in Sir Edward himself—he starts looking gaunt and tired. This case is taking a physical toll on him. It’s a simple detail, but it adds so much weight to the story.
I can’t help but wonder what this series must be like for a reader that’s only reading “Witchfinder” and never dabbled in the rest of the Hellboy Universe. After all, it is the first chronologically, and there are some readers that simply insist on reading things in chronological order. These readers would never have met Hecate, the imagery referenced from “The Rise of the Black Flame” and the Wheel symbol from “B.P.R.D.: Vampire” wouldn’t mean anything to them. I don’t think this hurts the story—the references never get so obscure that the story isn’t kept in Sir Edward’s present—but there is an air of doom that comes with Hecate, especially knowing how much she comes to hang over every step of Sir Edward’s life, and I wonder if these new readers still get a sense of this tension, even if they don’t quite understand what it is yet.
This issue finally shows us just how much danger Sarah Jewell’s put herself in. Of course, Sarah’s always known she was putting herself in danger, and she’s been as careful as possible, ever at the ready for when everything goes south as it does in this issue. And while she manages to get the jump on the HBR boys when they come for her, she’s far from in control of the situation. It happens off-panel, but a lot of women die in this issue. There were twenty-seven women ready to be sacrificed and when Sarah Jewell charges in with the women she’s saved, there’s a damn sight less than that. Yes, she managed to save her friend, Henrietta, but you can bet after this story is over, she’ll hardly look back at this as a success story. More likely it’ll be a story of how she narrowly escaped total calamity.Continued below
And there’s still one more chapter of this story to be told. If I’m right, both Sarah and Sir Edward are about to discover that had they been on this quest to stop the Ripper alone, they would’ve failed.
Speaking of the Ripper, I found this reveal a bit of an Agatha Christie moment. Like The orient Express, it seems that there isn’t one killer, but rather a whole host of killers led by August Swain and Lady Evelyn Whitcomb-Pryse and guided by the expertise of both Dr. Robert Haldane and Gordon Asquith. Of these, I find Lady Evelyn the most curious. She’s not a member of the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra, so what’s she getting out of all this? There’s clearly much more to her than we’ve been shown so far. We already know that Queen Victoria will ultimately choose to keep the truth of the Jack the Ripper killings a secret, though I can’t imagine why she would do so, except to protect her friend Lady Evelyn from justice.
In our past reviews, Chris had been wondering what had happened to make Sir Edward earn such a lousy reputation—after all, in the past five volumes of “Witchfinder” we’ve seen nothing but his successes. In this arc, Sir Edward casually mentioned several cases that fell apart, as though these past few years he’s had a run of bad luck. However, it seems there was more to it than that. This issue reveals Lady Evelyn has been running a smear campaign against him all this time. Given that she’s tied up in this business with Hecate, the queen of witches, I wonder if perhaps Lady Evelyn herself is either a witch or tied to witches somehow. It might explain a few things. Sir Edward rose to prominence in 1879 when he stopped the Witches of Farnham from assassinating Queen Victoria. Could Lady Evelyn’s campaign be motivated by this event?
In short, this issue answered some questions, which only led to bigger questions. Will ‘The Reign of Darkness’ #5 give us closure or will Sir Edward be left wondering about Lady Evelyn just as I have? And finally, it was nice to see Sir Edward come to furious life in the latter half of the issue.
Final verdict: 8 – Needless to say, I got pretty drawn into this one.