Abe Sapien: Dark and Terrible & The New Race of Man
By Andy Mansell | Contributor Published: 12/17/2013 10:00 am EST
Publish date: December 11, 2013 Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Abe Sapien is a spin-off series of the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. franchise. Every B.P.R.D. reader loves Abe—he’s a hero who has never gotten a decent break. He has (or had) no idea how he became the amphibious man/fish, nor does he understand what role he will play in the ever-evolving apocalypse known in the Mignolaverse as Hell on Earth.
The newest graphic novel collects issues 1 through 5 of the ongoing Abe Sapien series and features two stories, the three-issue “Dark and Terrible” and the two-issue “The New Race of Man.” Both stories examine the role of spiritual faith in the face of annihilation. What has always been so provocative about the current B.P.R.D. storyline is that Mignola and Arcudi never take the easy way out. They put their characters through absolute hell as this world-changing destruction—primordial monsters emerge from beneath the Earth’s surface to destroy cities and either kill or infect the populace—takes its toll on heroes, B.P.R.D. agents and common people alike. There is no escape.
It would be easy for the writers to have taken the “No Atheist in the Fox Hole” philosophy and told a potentially moving tale of, say, a family trying to maintain their Judeo-Christian faith as the end of times has arrived. But Mignola and Arcudi suggest that the human race—or any intelligent species—facing annihilation either dies out or evolves.
The first story involves a mutated Abe—he now looks more like the marauding monsters than an amphibian super-hero—on the run. He needs to hide out from anyone who sees him; since he looks like an enemy, it’s fair to assume he will be treated like an enemy. Abe takes sanctuary in an isolated community with a kindly minister who is trying to tend his frightened flock. But unfortunately, Abe’s arrival coincides with a disaster of truly biblical proportions.
The second story centers on a group of post-apocalyptic pilgrims who discover their Promised Land (or perhaps their Golden Calf) in the form of a gigantic, unhatched monster egg on the shores of the Salton Sea. These believers and Abe learn some tough lessons; although everything and everyone is changing, the old rules of morality should still apply.
In both stories, the questions are raised: Is this the Revelation of John or has God forsaken this lonely planet? Does man give up or does he adapt?
It is fairly obvious that Abe is becoming a Christ figure. These storylines are rife with messiah under- and over-tones as Abe, freshly resurrected from a death-like coma, begins a spiritual journey. He has to deal with lot of false gods and even is baptized in the Salton Sea. But with things so dire, the kind of miracle that super-heroes used to pull out of their hats is a scarce phenomenon at best. Is Abe destined to be the savior or the destroyer of the human race? Is he the New-Man or is he just another of the monsters that are ravaging the world? Mignola, Arcudi, Allie, and their artists offer no easy answers, nor do they take the easy way out. Above all, rays of hope shine through but they are refracted through a rather twisted prism. Some want to run, some want to fight, some want to evolve.
This is a brilliant and terrifying book; it is so intelligent and quite challenging. Oftentimes, a genre writer delves into the spiritual and the results are clichéd or hackneyed. In this case, Mignola and crew deliver cautionary tales and add yet another tragic level or three to the world that Mignola created and is now destroying. The artwork by Max and Sebastian Fiumara is marvelous. It reminds me of the Bissette/Totleben art from the late eighties, with a dollop of Don Newton thrown in for good measure. And please insert hyperbole here to describe Dave Stevens’ moody dark and green coloring.
The opening scene (after a short prologue) is quite impressive. Four hobos are riding the rails in an empty box car. This scene plays like a passage from a finely-tuned novel and sets the tone for all the drama to follow. Each of the characters represents different viewpoints of the carnage that is destroying their lives. Although these two Abe Sapien story arcs are sci-fi/fantasy, they are closer in nature to Steinbeck or Cormac McCarthy than John Vance or Gene Wolfe.
As usual in works of this nature, the tone is the key, and the artists keep the tension bubbling. I can’t even remember a scene in the book where the sky was blue and the sun was out. These are dark times and they are getting darker. But if Abe is the Christ figure and an obvious lynchpin in this demonic monster takeover, then one is left with hope. It is faint, but it is still there. I just don’t think that ol’ Abe is going to make it out of it alive.
It’s hard to believe, but this 5-issue collection—with background info on the first page—may very well be an ideal place to start the “Hell on Earth” storyline. There is action and some continuity and even a murder mystery, but this is a thinking person’s book. It offers the kind of insight you don’t get from an action-based saga like The Walking Dead. Mignola and Arcudi suggest that, ofttimes, it is in the depths of a man’s soul where true horrors live.
I’ve been reading B.P.R.D. for more than a few years now and I’ve enjoyed some books far more than others. At times, I’ve gotten completely depressed by the “Hell on Earth” storyline. But in the past month, I’ve read what I think are the two most multi-layered and most worthwhile stories: Hellboy: The Midnight Circusand this Abe Sapien collection. I hope Mignola and company have enough left in the tank to maintain this kind of quality. Regardless, I’m on board and I’m not the only hobo in the boxcar.
Andy Mansell lived in Chicago for over 40 years until his doctors advised him that he would die soon unless he got as far away from the land of Italian combo sandwiches and soft serve frozen custard. He is currently growing rather old rather quickly in Charlotte, NC as a member of the Waistline Protection Program. He lives for four things: his family, baseball, opera, and of course great comics. He is also looking for a ride back to Chi-town for just one more breaded steak sammich. He will provide gas, guaranteed. Contact him at this address.