Column: Comics Over Innsmouth: Spaceships and Golems

By Lyndsey Holder

Mallozzi, Joseph and Mullie, Paul, writers. Brown, Garry, artist. Dark Matter Volume 1: Rebirth. Dark Horse (October 2012).

Mignola, Mike and Golden, Christopher. Joe Golem and the Drowning City. Dark Horse (October 2012).

In space, there isn’t any atmosphere and no one can hear you scream. In Dark Matter, a sci-fi comic by Joseph Mallozzi, Paul Mullie and Garry Brown, there is also no atmosphere, but I’m pretty sure that my screams of frustration were heard by everyone in my neighborhood, if not the whole of North America. If you were wondering what all that mumbled griping you heard last week was, it was me wishing that review copies still came in a paper format so I could throw mine out the window without ruining my laptop.

As someone who also writes and draws, I tend to feel a bit icky at the prospect of saying nothing but negative things about someone else’s art. I try very hard to find at least a few positive things to say about everything because it stinks when someone trashes your work. That said, the best thing I can say about Dark Matter is that it is incredibly generic. It’s space story Pablum – it requires very little digestion.

The crew of a spaceship awaken to find that the ship’s security – an android with fists of steel and the personality of cardboard – is hellbent on their destruction. Also, someone’s shooting at them. How is it possible, you ask, that anyone could do anything with that other than make a completely awesome comic? I wish I knew. There’s a real sense that no one who was writing or drawing the comic cared very much about it – that they were just doing it to get it done. You can tell from the art that it’s drawn by someone who was capable, but just couldn’t be bothered to do much more than the bare minimum. It’s one of those comics where no one is ever drawn the same way twice and you have to rely on clothing and hair colour to figure out who is who.

Dark Matter is like an honors student who is disgustingly attractive and sporty deciding to forgo all of the fantastic opportunities he’s being offered and work the counter in a fast-food joint. It could have been a force to be reckoned with, but instead it decided to stay in Mom’s basement.

For slogging through Dark Matter, I decided to reward myself with Joe Golem and the Drowning City, the latest progeny of Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden. I loved Baltimore, or the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire like Batman loves being sullen, so I had no doubt in my mind that I would adore Joe Golem even more.

Joe Golem follows a young woman named ‘Molly’ who is the assistant to Felix, a reclusive medium, and her escape from the strange creatures that Felix perhaps foresaw or perhaps unwittingly called down through a New York that’s so flooded it makes Venice look positively dry. Joe, the titular character, is brooding and strong – like Hellboy without the wit – and Molly’s personal superhero.

It’s not that Joe Golem is bad. It’s just not good. It’s average. It’s written in a way that’s much too sterile. The descriptions are nice, but there’s a sense that we’re watching everything from a safe distance, rather than being right there in the thick of things. Even when Molly is in danger, it’s never tense because we’re removed from that. We’re not seeing it from her eyes; we’re not feeling her heart straining in her chest, beating against her ribs like a small, terrified bird frantically trying to escape the confines of its cage. There’s too much prose and not enough punches.

Mignola’s artwork is lovely, as usual, but doesn’t always make sense in the context of the story. At times, it seems to be only tangentially connected – as though it was drawn for a rough draft that was later almost entirely rewritten.

Joe Golem would be excellent reading for someone who loves thrilling, suspenseful stories, but has a heart condition that precludes any kind of palpitation-inducing excitement. If Joe Golem were a person, he would be ridiculously attractive, incredibly clever, unbelievably charming, the most atrociously slobbery kisser, and completely incompetent in bed.

Bio: Lyndsey is a Lovecraft nerd with a fondness for cephalopods.