Tuesday, 23 July 2019

MIKE MIGNOLA'S WITCHFINDER

Mike Mignola's Witchfinder is an unsurprising offshoot of his Bureau For Paranormal Research and Defense. Sir Edward Grey has been knighted for his role in saving Queen Victoria from a cabal of witches, and in the first volume of this series, In The Service Of Angels, he is working for the government investigating a series of bloody killings in London. Whatever is doing the killing is linked to an archaeological expedition that found one of the seven lost cities of the Hyperborean Age, and as Grey digs deeper he encounters a secret society, the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra, who may be allies of a sort, or enemies.

In supernatural detective stories, the suspense revolves around first discovering what the danger actually is, and then in how to defeat it. Grey, interestingly, is as much acted upon as actor, and Ben Stenbeck's drawing of him emphasises this: he is not easily surprised, but he does seem very cautious. Which helps this story work well, because it is the surrounding cast which is more interesting: think back to the prototypes like Fu Manchu, and how Nayland Smith is as much as anything a catalyst for the real horrors or sometimes wonders they encounter. The most fascinating of whom is Miss Mary Wolf, a psychic whose visions put the story into perspective. The other thing which works well is Stenbeck's evoking of the Victorian era; we've seen it so many times it risks being cliched, but he finds nice little touches to make it new.

What intrigues me most about the story are the references to other cases which Grey has already encountered, which, like the throwaway mentions in Sherlock Holmes, illuminate only slightly, but pique the curiosity. Given that much of Grey's backstory remains hidden to the reader, that curiosity is strong.

But it isn't answered in the second volume Lost And Gone Forever, written by Mignola and John Arcudi with art by John Severin. Since the story is set in the American West a year after the events of the first volume. Severin was a great artist of westerns in the Silver Age, and he brings the same sort of background perspective to the story that Stenbeck did to Victorian London; the details are both realistic and revealing. The story itself is a bit less focused: Grey is tracking a Lord Glaren from London all the way across America, and arrives in Reidlynne, Utah, where there is something strange at the church, and the locals don't take kindly to questions. He's rescued by a Bill Hickock type named Morgan Kaler, who's accompanied by a backward youth named Issac (there was a similar character in Service Of Angels, Grey is good with the simple-minded) who is older than he appears.

There is also a white woman named Eris leading a group of Indians intent on some sort of revival of their gods and a full spectrum of spectres, including Glaren, wolves and various spirits. It's a full story, perhaps too full, and Kaler in particular might have been fleshed out a bit more. It would be too much to say Grey works better, by definition in Victorian England, but he and his antagonists here seem to be on different planes.

By the way, there's a short story at the end of the first volume featuring another witch-hunter, Henry Hood, in 1667. It's a nice six-pager, but the interesting thing is the presentation of Hood, who reminds me immediately of Robert E Howard's Solomon Kane, still to my mind the best of the witch-hunter characters.

Witchfinder: In The Service Of Angels by Mike Mignola art by Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse Books, £13.50, ISBN 9781595824837)
Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi art by John Severin
(Dark Horse Books, £13.50, ISBN 9781595827944)

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