Abe Sapien: The Drowning #1-5 (Dark Horse)

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Hellboy's amphibious sidekick stars in his first solo adventure.

 

28 pgs. ea. FC; $2.95 ea.

Collected Edition (144 pgs., $17.95) due October 1, 2008

(W: Mike Mignola; A: Jason Shawn Alexander; C: Dave Stewart)

 

Mike Mignola is a master of monsters, as anyone who has sampled his career-defining work in Hellboy knows all too well. One of his most memorable creations for the title was also one of the first: Abe Sapien, Hellboy's amphibious sidekick of sorts in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Abe has been a mainstay of Mignola's stories—he debuted in the very first Hellboy story, Seed of Destruction, was the first character in the franchise to get his own special (1998's one-shot Abe Sapien: Drums of the Dead), played a headline role in the spinoff B.P.R.D., and even appeared in the 2004 Hellboy film—but the story of his first solo mission as a B.P.R.D. agent has never been told.

Until now, that is, in the pages of the five-issue miniseries The Drowning. The year is 1981, and Hellboy is on a two-year sabbatical from the team when Bureau chief Prof. Bruttenholm catches wind of an ancient artifact that has been located off the coast of France. It seems on the surface like a simple search-and-retrieve mission, and, given the artifact's underwater location, a natural for the Bureau's resident Icthyo sapien.

If only things were that easy. The piece in question is a Lipu dagger, a mystic weapon crafted in 300 BC by Hindu monks to slay demons. Legendary British occult detective Sir Edwart Grey used the dagger to slay Epke Vrooman, a particularly nasty Dutch warlock, and it remained lodged in his chest for the better part of a century. Though Vrooman was, in effect, killed by the blade, his minions (who remained very much alive) see Abe's arrival as the perfect opportunity to manipulate him into removing the blade and resurrecting their master. Soon, Abe finds himself separated from his team, fighting alone in a battle against every manner of evil undersea beasty that the demons of the deep can throw his way.

Mignola supplies the books covers and handles the writing chores forThe Drowning, so naturally it retains the tone set for Abe since his very first appearance 15 years ago. He gets a lot of mileage by playing off of Abe's relative inexperience at the job, and without Hellboy's trademark sarcastic wit, the story plays as a much more straightforward action/fantasy story. As always, the level of research is evident from the very first pages, giving occult fans plenty of fascinating details to sink their teeth into.

The Drowning marks Jason Shawn Alexander's debut in the Hellboy universe, and it's quite a strong one. His thin line style is more reminiscent of Jae Lee's work on Inhumans than Mignola's high contrast designs, but he skillfully employs pools of blackness on the page to conjure up the dark atmosphere necessary for a good Hellboyverse story. He's also got a definite knack for undersea life, capturing the various eels and squids that attack our hero with an icthyologist's eye.

The mystery surrounding Vrooman's resurrection is an interesting one, but it's also a bit of a slight one. Where three or four issues would have told a tight, captivating story, spreading it over five parts stretches it just a hair too thin, making the build-up to the big final fight drag. The added pages fortunately give us more luscious Alexander art to look at, however, so the trade seems more than fair. | Jason Green

Click the thumbnails throughout the page to see Mike Mignola's covers for the series. To see more, click here for preview art from all five issues of Abe Sapien: The Drowning, courtesy of Dark Horse!

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