Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Poe and He in Motion

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 14th, 2009

Poe #1
Writer: J. Barton Mitchell
Artist: Dean Kotz
Colors: Digikore Studios
Letters: Marshall Dillon
Cover artists: Declan Shalvey/Jeffrey Spokes
Editor: Matt Gagnon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $3.99 US

As I began to read this comic book, I feared that it might demand that its audience be familiar with the full bibliography of the title character’s writings and his life story. As I’m almost two decades removed from my 19th Century American Lit class, my current level of information abut Edgar Allan Poe is far from exhaustive. Fortunately, one’s able to appreciate this supernatural detective story even if one’s only passing familiar with Poe’s past. Writer J. Barton Mitchell takes the tragedy of Poe’s later years and transforms him into a haunted soul, literally. Despite the darker aspects of the main character, this book is actually quite a bit of fun, as the creators offer up something more akin to a cross between Sherlock Holmes and B.P.R.D..

Perpetually distraught since the death of his cherished wife Virginia, Edgar Allan Poe sits in a Baltimore sanitarium, trying the patience those working there by repeatedly leaving the grounds and complaining about ghosts that refuse to give him any peace. William, Edgar’s brother, visits one evening, desperate to maintain the peace between Edgar and his keepers, but his job calls him away suddenly. Edgar accompanies his brother, a special constable, to the scene of a bizarre and perplexing murder. Edgar’s expertise in crafting America’s earliest detective stories and his familiarity with the occult allow him to be of great assistance in the investigation, and the brothers set out not only to solve the murder but to prevent further killings.

Dean Kotz’s style evokes memories of the works of such artists as Tom (The Spectre, Creeps) Mandrake and Gary (Corpus Monstrum) Gianni, both of whom have offered up fare in a similarly gothic, supernatural vein as well. There’s a lot of gritty texture in the linework, which reinforces the historical nature of this piece of fantastic fiction. Kotz also offers up a decent likeness of Poe, but it’s a loose one that allows the story to flow nicely. He doesn’t aim for a photorealistic look, and that’s a wise approach. While there’s a real literary legend at the heart of the story, the plot is about the impossible and the macabre, not true crime.

Mitchell casts Edgar Allan Poe in the role of Sherlock Holmes here, and depicting Poe as having a particularly perceptive and deductive mind makes sense. It’s an easy comparison to make, given the period here and the deductions Poe makes. What sets this apart from Arthur Conan Doyle’s mysteries is the hero’s personality. Whereas Holmes has always been portrayed as supremely confident, Poe is defined by his emotional pain and meekness. Fortunately, bringing Poe’s brother William into the mix as a tough and more typically heroic figure makes for a nice balance in dynamics and makes it easier to accept the disturbed writer’s participation in the grisly business at hand.

The mystery is quite a bit of fun, but Kotz adds even more of it to the mix by linking the mystery to supernatural power. The appearance of a golem at the end of this issue brings such a fantastic flourish to the story but it’s not so extreme that it takes one out of the story. The creators have offered up a solidly entertaining story, nothing terribly deep or even all that reflective of history, but entertaining all the same. 7/10

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