Pulp is hard to accomplish without winking at the audience, granting readers permission to not take the material seriously. Lobster Johnson: The Forgotten Man is pulp fantasy/horror with a slight twist of knowing in the script. However, the knowing doesn’t preclude appreciation and reverence. In Lobster Johnson: The Forgotten Man a power-crazed pied piper is preying upon the poor people of the Big Apple. And the book takes pains to emphasize that the poor are people, suffering lives that perhaps turned sour for one reason or another beyond their control. Now, someone or something seems to be taking advantage of society’s need to ignore the needy. The homeless are going missing.
I won’t claim The Forgotten Man is complex or especially character-driven. It is, in fact, very predictable. What you’ve got here is a very straight line from beginning to end. It's an old-fashioned kind of story that other books too frequently bury beneath wet zombie gore. Here, the notion of body count for the sake of body count gets tossed aside for light horror. Instead of cheap titillation from overly graphic violence, we get reserved glimpses of blood. Never does artist Peter Snejbjerg waste his panel space. He really knows how to lead the eye, capturing the delightfully hideous aesthetic of pulp horror comics and expertly blends it with the loopy, violent heroics of crime comics. But never does his work falter in its storytelling. Panels are crowded with grasping limbs without feeling cluttered or confusing. Snejbjerg skillfully depicts the suffocating horror of the ravenous, ultimately insatiable drive that is human greed. The violence is conveyed through some truly ghoulish monster artwork. It's a testament to both the script and the art that this one-shot could have been presented sans dialog and remained mostly intact as a complete work.
Arcudi and Mignola write a tale that moves with confidence and speed, allowing each scene to last long enough to serve a purpose. For example, there is a late-issue moment where The Lobster has to confront his part in catalyzing the book's events. As the man in charge of a crime-fighting team, there needs to be a tragic stoicism to The Lobster, a weight he can't shrug off for the sake of appearances. It fits the 1930s period feel to have our lead shoulder adversity without visible modern sensitivity. But we do get that weight in a very brief (one panel, in fact) moment of vulnerability that says as much as it needs to, though saying no more. Mignola’s Hellboy universe derives much of its coolness from obscurity and carefully unraveled slow burn mystery. The fact that The Lobster is seemingly fictional within fiction oddly lends him a greater verisimilitude. He’s a writer’s idea of what another writer would create. Johnson represents a bygone era through the power of his legend. There’s little overall payoff to this, though. Just the satisfaction of seeing some downtrodden folk catch a break.
Having said all that, The Forgotten Man has flaws. The big bad is a little too eager to be revealed as a frantic maniac. And once our villain is out in the open they are drawn with the craziest of crazy eyes. It makes the horror a little too campy for its own good. The “less is more” style of narrative will leave some readers feeling unfulfilled. And everything wraps up too neatly.
Knowing all of that, I still think Lobster Johnson: The Forgotten Man hits more than it misses. A fun read.
[button btn_url="" btn_color="pink" btn_size="large" btn_style="default" btn_outlined="no" link_target="blank" link_rel="nofollow" icon_left="" icon_right=""]Score: 3/5[/button]
Lobster Johnson: The Forgotten Man Writer: Mike Mignola, John Arcudi Artist: Peter Snejbjerg Colorist: Dave Stewart Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 4/6/16 Format: One-Shot; Print/Digital