Posted by Don MacPherson on October 19th, 2009
Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels #4
Writer/Cover artist: Mike Mignola
Artist: Ben Stenbeck
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Clem Robins
Editor: Scott Allie
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $2.99 US
I don’t think Mike Mignola and his various collaborators have ever released a poor Hellboy or B.P.R.D. comic book, and I’m sure there are thousands of fans who never miss an issue. I can’t help but wonder if Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder, a title that lurks on the periphery of the Mignola-verse, might slip by those fans. If so, they’d be well advised to check out this Victorian monster-hunting story. Mignola captures the same sort of gothic vibe and sense of dark adventure he does in his other titles, and it’s spiced up with an interesting dose of historical fiction. History has always played an important role in his Hellboy comics, so it’s fun to sample a similar story that’s actually immersed in that history. This penultimate issue of this limited series doesn’t read as such. Mignola keeps ramping the story up, introducing new characters that add to the intrigue and mystery. The writer also has a knack for partnering with artists who are skilled at incorporating the unique Mignola style into their work while still instilling their own unique styles into the storytelling, and Ben Stenbeck is no exception.
Sir Edward Grey continues his pursuit of the ghostly, vampiric monster that’s running amok through London, only to find that he’s not the only one after the beast. A secret society of scientists aims to tame the beast, to study it and to use it for its own nefarious purposes, but Grey knows that the creature won’t obey natural laws or the will of men. After the monster escapes, Grey is at a loss when it comes to his next course of action. That’s when the Captain remembers there’s another mystic in the city who may be able to help them with their mission. But this time, instead of a thoughtful and beautiful woman, they’re off to meet a madman locked up in an asylum.
Stenbeck’s worked within the Mignola-verse before, and he’d demonstrated with this series why he was invited to romp around this playground once again. He does good by Mignola’s distinct horror style, using shadow to achieve the same sort of simple, gothic effect. However, while there’s a Mignola influence that’s quite apparent, Stenbeck’s work here overall is far more reminiscent of the dark, creepy style of Peter (The Might) Snejbjerg. His closeups of various characters’ faces are incredibly expressive, and those expressions bring the unimaginable horror down to earth for the audience. I also love the designs for the members of the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra.
Colorist Dave Stewart generally employs cool greys and muted brown tones to not only enhance the tense, supernatural atmosphere of the story but to bring a dirty texture to the historical backdrop as well. He reserved brighter colors for displays of unnatural power, be it fiery spells or the blood that stains the monster’s fur after a series of murders.
One of the most important scenes in the book is the conversation between Sir Edward and Mary in the pub. Sure, both characters reveal something of themselves and their backgrounds, but what’s more important is the growing connection between them. Edward’s interest in Mary makes it easy to relate to him, as it’s really the first sign of something other than the grim determination he’s exhibited up to this point. The history behind their conversation also points to dark chapters in actual human history, which point to a different kind of monstrousness that exists beyond the pages of comic books.
Perhaps the most fun aspect of this issue — and of this series as a whole — has been Mignola’s introduction of a number of colorful characters. The Captain, Mary and her spirit guide, the Brotherhood and finally, the wild-eyed Martin Gilfryd. Sir Edward seems practically normal when juxtaposed against this cast of characters, and that comparatively everyman quality makes him seem all the more heroic given the circumstances of the plot. 8/10
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