Review: "Joe Golem Occult Detective Volume 1: The Rat Catcher and The Sunken Dead"

Review: "Joe Golem Occult Detective Volume 1: The Rat Catcher and The Sunken Dead"

So, I just finished Joe Golem: Occult Detective Volume 1- The Rat Catcher and The Sunken Dead [Mike Mignola/Christopher Golden (writers), Patric Reynolds/Dave Palumbo (art), Dave Stewart (colors), and Clem Robins (letters)].  I don’t know why i waited this long to read this book.  I'm ashamed of myself if i am being fully honest. If there is a series that is more in my wheelhouse than this, I would be completely surprised.

Anytime that you team Mike Mignola’s concepts with Christopher Golden’s writing, you are getting a quality story.  When Patric Reynolds and Dave Palumbo join that team, you have an unstoppable comic. By adding Dave Stewart and Clem Robins, now you are just showing off!

Cover by David Palumbo

Without giving away too many plot details, we enter this world not from the beginning, but right smack in the middle.  We are told that some sort of catastrophe has completely engulfed lower Manhattan, now known as the Drowning City, killing countless people.

In the first story, “The Ratcatcher,” some sort of creature is abducting children from the waterfront, and it is up to Joe Golem to uncover the mystery and recover the children, if he can.  Throughout the story, Joe has dreams that he cannot understand, and Simon Church, his partner/mentor/tries to make him forget, rather than uncover the truth about them.  At the same time, the detective tries to maintain his focus on saving these children, leaning more into using force than research to resolve it.

In the second story, “The Sunken Dead,” we see more of Golem’s dreams, discover that there is so much more to Simon Church that you could have suspected, and have a foolish man meddling with powers way beyond his understanding.  In this story we see more direct involvement from the elder Simon Church, who sticks to his knowledge, while using Joe Golem for the physicality to resolve this little conflict. This shorter story reveals more of the dynamic between the two men.

The art in this series is a story in itself, and Patric Reynolds was a perfectly bold choice to take those reigns.  He is no stranger to Mike Mignola’s world, his work being seen previously in Abe Sapien:The Haunted Boy, Hellboy & the B.P.R.D: 1954, and short stories  from the collected editions of BPRD 1947 and Witchfinder In the Service of Angels. He is also deeply involved in both horror and crime noir books.  His credits include a prequel book to the vampire film Let Me In, Alien: Blood and Stone, Crime Does Not Pay: City of Roses, and more.  His style lends itself perfectly to Joe Golem’s world, as it is a perfect mixture of all these genres.  The dark, gritty art helps increase that sense of foreboding, the dread, the discomfort. Dave Stewart’s colors are impossibly perfect as always, with the already dismal setting being reinforced with those polluted shades of grey, blue, and beige.  Dave Palumbo, who provides the cover paintings and chapter breaks, is also no stranger to horror, providing covers for Alien: Blood and Stone, as well as multiple paintings for Sideshow Collectibles original horror fantasy line Court of the Dead.  His paintings reinforce the feelings of overarching menace and hints of occult horror.

Let me preface my next thoughts by saying that I absolutely loved the story, and if you love Hellboy, you will likely enjoy this too.  But I have to point out the similarities between the universes. This concept is a wholly Mignola one to say the least. I can see why he has said in the past that if Hellboy ever fell through, this was his backup plan.

Let’s take a look at the similarities between the Hellboy Universe and the...Golemverse?  We have the protagonist, Joe Golem , who is a hard boiled occult noir detective, few of words, quick with his fists.  He has a mysterious past that he is mostly unaware of, tries to ignore, yet it is constantly creeping in from the edges.  He has an older mentor, Simon Church, who relies on books and fact finding. Throw in an aquatic man/monster, witches, and a hidden robed menace, and you’ve got a good case for Hellboy universe adjacency.

None of this takes away from the story, it almost feels like, a Mignola-Multiverse, like, this is Earth-2 Hellboy.  And as for the combination of writing and art, this creative team is well versed on darkness and impending doom. The threats seem to loom on the edges of the pages, and every time I turn them, I feel a sense of dread.  It is plotted, paced, written, and drawn in a way we have come to expect of Mike Mignola and team, with care and excellence.

This is the perfect series for fans of Ed Brubaker style crime stories, and Mike Mignola occult mysteries.  The only thing that stopped me from binging everything available was having to write this up. Head down to your local comic shop and buy it, you will absolutely not regret it.

Other recommendations:

Fatale - Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips

Baltimore - Mike Mignola/Christopher Golden/Ben Stenbeck

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