It with a heavy heart but a steady pen (well, the keyboard equivalent) that I declare that Joe Golem the comic may never live up to its title. "Joe Golem: Occult Detective" slides off the tongue, and drips with the promise pulpy thrills, supernatural adventures, and a loving tribute to the detective novels of the past. But while each of these elements is ostensibly present in the book, they feel slight and obligatory, never vivid enough to cohere into the story the title advertizes. More and more, the book feels like it would be more comfortable and under the title "Joe Ex-Golem: Average Dude". A prologue set in medieval times opens the issue, providing us yet another ultimately unsatisfactory glimpse into Joe's past. Watching monks arguing over the merits of creating a witch-killing Golem would be a more useful opening if we understood clearly how it relates to the main story or what it means in its own right. I am pretty sure, judging mostly from the series' name, that Joe is the Golem that was created... but why he is no longer big and muddy is beyond me. Similarly, what do the witches have to do with any of this? According to the cover, this is issue 4 of 5, so unless the next installment does a lot of legwork, I can't see a satisfying series of revelations on the horizon.
After the prologue, we switch to modern times where Joe's burgeoning dating life is interrupted by that meddlesome Mr. Church, who wants Joe to help him investigate some occult activity. And investigate they do, finding a crazy old scientist straight out of Scooby Doo who is doing something magical with undead flood victims (ruh-roh!). All sarcasm aside, this paranormal detective plotline has some interesting ideas (albeit without ANY detecting: the professor has a machine that detects magic). The villain's motivations are, like the sea monster from before, not unsympathetic, and a final twist sets up the title for interesting things. But keeping this story from reaching its potential is the series Achilles' heel: a complete lack of characterization for its leads.
There is quite literally nothing interesting about Joe at the moment. He is neither Golem nor detective as far as we are shown, and it's hard to invest in his adventures (not to mention his dating life). Mr. Church continues to be mysterious and malicious by way of passive-aggressive (his big plan to manipulate Joe via guilt is reminiscent of a pathetic grandparent). Both of these leads are one-note (naive and ominous respectively) and the script, which is unwilling to divulge any of its mysteries, seems intent on keeping them that way.
In other words, Joe Golem isn't actively bad, it's just aggressively mediocre. The art by Patric Reynolds remains serviceable but not particularly attractive, while the world-building amounts to scattered references to floods and witches. It's disappointing knowing how good Mike Mignola has managed to make exactly this type of story before, but his heart simply doesn't seem to be in it.
As I mentioned before, there is a hint of where the next part of the story is going (making me guess there might be a sequel mini-series later in the year), and perhaps things will pick up. But in 2016 there is no shortage of excellent fantasy stories to choose from and for the moment, and any of them would be more exciting than the increasingly dull Joe Golem.
Joe Golem Occult Detective #4 Writers: Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden Artist: Patric Reynolds Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 2/3/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital