Magician Felix Orlov dreams the death of his mother in an occult ceremony which features the terrible Lector’s Pentajullum. When he is kidnapped by the sorcerer Golnik, his assistant Molly stumbles across the very man who can save him – Joe Golem! Join them in this new two-fisted pulp adventure of dark sorcery in Joe Golem Occult Detective: The Drowning City #1.
Writers: Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden
Artist: Peter Berting
Colors: Michelle Madsen
Letters: Clem Robins
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: September 12th, 2018
Previously in Joe Golem Occult Detective: His past is a mystery, his home of New York City is half drowned and the occult world presses close, but Joe Golem won’t let that stop him as he teams up with a magician’s assistant to take down an evil sorcerer looking for an ancient artifact to rend the veil between realities!
PEDIGREE TO BURN
Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden need no introduction, but I’ll do my best. Mignola is obviously best known for Hellboy, and a lot of the occult sensibilities from that universe are evident in this opening issue. Christopher Golden is a prolific and well-known horror writer, whose recent book ‘Ararat’ mines a rich vein of history and the occult. Together, these two writers have begun to carve out a new fiction reality with their Joe Golem tales, a series about two occult detectives, Simon Church and our eponymous hero.
SWIMMING WITH THE DEAD
It’s September 1975, and half of New York City lies drowned as a result of a cataclysm fifty years ago. Cults and sorcerers and ancient artifacts thrive in this shadowy world, where dark magics are performed by crazed occultists seek ultimate power. Orlov the Conjuror, a kindly magician, is plagued by dreams that depict the gruesome sacrifice of his mother. Molly, the archetypal plucky assistant, is devoted to the old man, who conducts séances for paying customers. When one such session leads to Orlov’s possession and kidnapping, Molly gives chase, losing him, but stumbles across Joe Golem, himself fresh from busting up a cult and retrieving a precious idol. Meanwhile, in the depths of drowned New York, the sorcerer Golnik holds Orlov captive and through him seeks ultimate power.
The beauty of mixing an alternate history (though recognizably our own milieu) with the occult is that both complement the other. Dread sorcery, in the shape of sacrifices and idols and gas mask wearing creatures, is made more terrible by appearing in surroundings recognizable to the reader. Similarly, instead of a fantasy land populated by dark lords, elves and dwarves, the appearance of our world means the stakes feel much higher than the otherwise might be.
The writing is strongest during the scenes with Golnik, whose monologues are set at just the right level of disturbing, his evident borderline insanity made worse by his deep desire to harness the blackest of magics via the Pentajullum, a heart-shaped device he wishes to use to converse with the dark powers lurking beyond the rim of human sanity.
As with any first issue, Joe Golem Occult Detective: The Drowning City #1 spends some time setting up the characters. Orlov is a tired old man burdened by the mistakes of the past, while Molly is barely a cypher, though one suspects she will pay a larger role later. There is no sighting of Simon Church, and Joe Golem is his usual stolid self, punching the bad guys and being kindly to seemingly helpless women.
Peter Berting’s art is complemented by Michelle Madsens’ dull colouring. New York in the 1970s, even in this alternative version, was a grim and dank place, and the artwork evocatively brings it to life. Some of the artwork in the opening panels, which depict a human sacrifice, is confronting, and sets the mood for what is to come. Similarly, the séance gone wrong and Golnik’s lair have a definite EC Comics vibe, with contorted figures and odd angles adding to the mood.
BOTTOM LINE – SOLID AND SPOOKY
A bonus with Joe Golem Occult Detective: The Drowning City #1 is the strong Lovecraftian vibe, of ancient horrors sought by clueless humans and an uncaring universe ignoring the suffering of its inhabitants. Couple that with the occult detective aspect of the story, with its familiar settings infiltrated by dark magics, and Mignola and Golden are off to a strong, confident start in this opening issue. There’s a dark world to explore here, and I can’t think of two other writers I would let lead my by the hand through their horrible vision.