Joe Golem and the Drowning City by Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden
My first exposure to Mike Mignola’s work was his cover art for X-Men Classic, issues #57-70. At the time I was anything but impressed at (what seemed to adolescent eyes) murky, blocky artwork. In my defense, it was the 90s and bad judgment was pretty popular at the time. As it turns out, Mike Mignola is a creator’s creator, respected these days not just by comic fans but by fellow comic and film professionals. He has contributed Hellboy to the comic medium, one of the most memorable, original characters in the last 20 years, as well as a slew of other impressively colorful characters. In addition to his comic books, Mignola has worked on the Francis Ford Coppola film Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the upcoming Hobbit film, as well as a previous prose collaboration with Christopher Golden, Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire.
Joe Golem and the Drowning City is primarily the story of Molly McHugh, young girl and denizen of a flooded 1970s Manhattan, trying to find her surrogate father, Felix Orlov (aka, Orlov the Conjurer), after his abduction by gasmask wearing, wetsuit clad monstrosities. In this increasingly perilous and supernatural endeavor, detectives Simon Hodge and Joe Golem come to her aid. Joe is a hulking brute with a surprisingly keen mind and an air of mystery. Simon is an elderly man kept alive through steam punk magic. Together they face Dr. Cocteau and his army of abominations.
The tone of the novel is pulpy, splashed with Mignola’s eternally present Chthulian atmosphere. Some aspects, such the monster hero, tentacled horrors and gasmask wearing villains, will be familiar to fans of the author, and Christopher Golden does a noble job of infusing the mood of Mignola’s artistic style into the printed word. Illustrations peppered throughout the work contribute more to tone than they do to anything else.
The only small disappointment in this book is that the focus has a habit of slipping away from the more original, eccentric, and (to me) interesting characters. Simon Hodge, who has had the will and ingenuity to replace his failing organs with clockwork, but struggles to find much worth living for, and Orlov the Conjurer, tragic father figure with a shocking lineage, lose time to the brave and true, but somewhat more pedestrian, Joe and Molly.
The novel’s end sets up a framework for sequels, which I will be sure to check out. Fans of Hellboy, steam punk, and pulp mysteries should find a lot to like about Joe Golem and the Drowning City.