Lobster Johnson has never been my favorite part of the Hellboy universe. My reasoning has been split between not being a fan of Mignola's creations that he doesn’t write and draw, and just a general sort of “meh” feeling about the Mignolaverse (don’t know if it’s actually called that, but it’s what I’m going to call it) and its tendency to take any mildly interesting background part of a Hellboy book and turn it into its own separate book. That being said, the format of Lobster Johnson vol. 3: Satan Smells a Rat lends itself to a pretty fun reading experience. The book itself is composed of four one-shots and a two-part story, all featuring Hellboy’s favorite comic book character, who is actually a real pulp hero. As far as continuity, I’m not sure I could place this book, so it would actually be pretty good starting point for anyone looking to read more on Lobster Johnson.
The stories themselves, co-written by Mignola and John Arcudi, are fairly run of the mill, especially for the Mignolaverse. There’s Nazis in zeppelins (“Caput Mortuum,” art by Tonci Zonjic), a paralyzed businessman who is kidnapping unfortunate souls for genetic experimentation (“Satan Smells a Rat,” art by Kevin Nowlan), and a mob boss who turns into a demon to beat the Lobster (“Tony Masso’s Finest Hour,” art by Joe Querio), and an evil Japanese witch with sinister masked monkey henchmen who is assassinating people in Chinatown (“A Scent of Lotus,” art by Sebastián Fiumara), and an evil Egyptian sword that is for some reason both full of vengeful spirits and in the hands of a nightclub owner (“The Prayer of Neferu,” art by Wilfredo Torres). While I particularly enjoyed “Tony Masso’s Finest Hour” and “The Prayer of Neferu,” I couldn’t say for sure if it was because I enjoyed the story or if it was the art.
The thing I dislike about the expanded Mignolaverse books is also one of the things that makes it necessary, to a degree: it introduces me to all kinds of other artists that I otherwise would never have sought out. I’m a firm Mignola fan, and nothing amuses me more than to see how much black he can throw down in a panel and still make it incredibly clear what’s happening, so when I see some of his more beloved creations like Abe Sapien and the B.P.R.D. crew given to someone else, I’m already leery. Some of them win me over; I love Michael Avon Oeming’s art in B.P.R.D: The Soul of Venice and Duncan Fegredo has been pretty regularly killin’ it since he took over for Mignola on the main Hellboy book.
In that vein, before I sat down to read this volume of Lobster Johnson, I was already familiar with Kevin Nowlan and Tonci Zonjic, who has been as close to a series artist for Lobster Johnson as anyone. When I finished reading this volume, I was fanboy-in-love with Wilfredo Torres and Joe Querio’s art, and I can’t wait to hunt down more.
The other thing I love about Mignolaverse books is that there’s always either a pin-up gallery or an extensive sketchbook section. As a guy who can’t draw to save his life, it’s always interesting to me to see how character designs progress and become the finished product that I love. This book is no exception; there’s pages on pages of sketches from all the artists involved, as well as a lot of thumbnails of covers by Mignola, Nowlan, and Zonjic.
If you’re looking for a good place to start with Lobster Johnson on his own, this wouldn’t be the worst place to do it. It is full of the flavor of Lobster Johnson stories, but if you read two and they’re not for you, you can get out without feeling like you’ve missed anything. If you already love Lobster Johnson, these might be a little bit weirder in terms of pacing, as they’re all one-shots and shorts, but you’ll still enjoy it.
Writers: Mike Mignola and John Arcudi Artists: Tonci Zonjic, Kevin Nowlan, Joe Querio, Sabastian Fiumara and Wilfredo Torres Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $18.99 Release Date: 2/12/14