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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lobster Johnson. The Burning Hand. Mike Mignola, John Arcudi (Writers), Tonci Zonjic (Art), Dave Stewart (Colours), Clem Robins (Letters). Dark Horse Books (2012)

Great period adventure and action story that mixes the supernatural with gangsters to great effect. Investigating an attack by low level thugs painted up to look like ghostly Native Americans leads reporter Cindy Tynan directly into the middle of a confrontation between major criminal Arnie Wald and mysterious vigilante, Lobster Johnson. Arnie Wald is working to acquire property in the area that will be ripe for re-development as New York expands, Lobster Johnston is fighting to stop him. When a direct assault Arnie by Lobster Johnson fails, Arnie calls in some unusual and very deadly allies and the fight escalates. The reveals are cleverly staged, the action is forceful and the mix of the elements tightly controlled to create the maximum impact.
One of the problems with trying to write a pulp story is that the surface details are so obvious that they distract from the structural elements that actually drive the story. It is a considerable tribute to Mike Mignola and John Arcudi that they have created a story that is both true to its roots and happily contemporary. They get the two most important elements exactly right, the period and the cast. The story is set in the the late 1920s against the rise of organized crime after the the introduction of Prohibition and their need to expand and diversify. The cast feel natural in the context, in particular Mr Isog who is clearly based on Peter Lorre who acts as a subtle key to giving the period atmosphere needed.
The plot mechanics are striking and effective, a relatively straightforward struggle between a very resourceful villain and a masked vigilante is given a lift and a twist by clever details and an engaging cast. Cindy Tynan is a capable and confident reporter who is concerned about the story and her career, supporting cast around Lobster Johnson and Arnie Wald are also capable and confident. Mercifully none are stupid, they resourceful and willing to act creating a smart and very satisfying climax.
Tonci Zonic's art is lovely, it quietly suggests the details of the period without forcing them, the supernatural actors are given a great presence, they move through the context easily and naturally, they do not conflict with it. The action is loud, bright and fast, everything it should be, ambiguity has no place in a story like this, the lines have to be clearly drawn and observed. The mystery about Lobster Johnson and the resourcefulness of Arnie Wald are a nicely judged updating of the formula .
Dave Stewart colours with unassuming flair and a keen eye for detail that serves the story without ever drawing attention to itself, Clem Robins delivers sound effects that are pleasure to read.
A great pleasure to read, a comic that wears its considerable craft with easy assurance.

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