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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Abe Sapien. The Devil does not Jest and Other Stories. Mike Mignola, John Arcudi(Writers), Patric Reynolds, Peter Snejbjerg, James Harren (Art) Dave Stewart (Colours), Clem Robbins (Letters). Dark Horse Books (2012)

Three wonderful stories featuring Abe Sapien agent of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence. All of the stories have a superb thread of the unexpected and the melancholy, the actions have strong and lasting consequences. Moving from a boy who is not what he seems to a drowned Russian submarine that has a number of secrets to the astonishing title story, all are superbly cast and structured with cunning reveals and dramatic echos that spread beyond the story itself.
One of the significant aspects to the stories is the matter-of-fact way that both the B>P.R.D. and Abe Sapien are presented. A government agency that deals with supernatural activities and problems would seem a natural for a shadowy role in public life, instead it is as visible as the police or the F.B.I. This means that the focus can rest firly on the events themselves rather than on the Bureau, it gives a solid and effective context to the action. That Abe Sapien is a humanoid fish is just taken for granted, he is an investigator for an agency that deals the supernatural, the fact that he is not human is par for the course.
This leaves the room in the stories for all the bits that all too often get squeezed out by an emphasis on the bizarre, the actual cast. It is not the odd business in itself that is interesting it is how the cast respond to and are caught up and changed by it. The stories shine here, they give room for the hammer blows of loss, greed and inescapable force that underlay the action and give it a context that draws in the reader with a much stronger grip than tension or horror alone would.
The art is nicely different for each story and the variety is welcome rather than distracting. They make the separation between the episode much clearer and are subtly matched to the different dramas. Patric Reynolds gives a realistic edge to the story of a haunting that robs a family a second time. It needs a solid context for the true scale of the devastation to be made clear. Peter Snejbjerg has uses a slightly more exaggerated and cartoony style to great effect in a story about the secrets of a drowned submarine. The stories bleak heart is hidden in an unexpected place and the art gets the required mix just right. James Harren wraps the story of a very clever man whose knowledge lead him to dreadful stupidity with  cunning detail and great kinetic energy. The comic thread in the story is a great counter point to the action.
Dave Stewart uses colours that blend in with the art and the story in a seamless way that  refuses to draw attention to the astonishing part they are playing, Clem Robbins letters do the same, both are hugely influential in the discreet way they should be. Great stories, great comics.


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