Joe Golem: Occult Detective, Vol. 1: The Rat Catcher and the Sunken Dead is the first volume of the Joe Golem series. This volume is written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden with Patric Reynolds on art and Mignolaverse legend Dave Stewart on colors. Most of the names here are familiar to anyone who’s read Hellboy and BPRD and, as you’d expect, they bring a certain floor to the quality of a book they’re involved in. I found that to be true of Joe Golem.
Anyone who’s picked up Hellboy through the years is going to recognize a lot of the themes and tropes that are present in Joe Golem. Brooding bruiser of a main character of supernatural origin? Check. Crime noir? Check. Investigating occult happenings? Check. Mignola and Golden are very good at telling those kinds of stories, and clearly it’s where a large part of their passion lies, but I was a little bit disappointed that it felt like this was an opportunity to break away from the Hellboy mold with a new series and it doesn’t feel like it was fully embraced. You could replace Joe Golem with Hellboy and the story wouldn’t feel that materially different.
Gripes about the originality of the book aside, this was still an enjoyable enough story. Hellboy works and is familiar, and that’s why the involved creators might feel comfortable telling a narrative in the same mold. If you’re a fan of the Mignolaverse odds are you’re going to like this book. It’s pretty light, as a Mignola work tends to be, leaving a lot of room on the page for Reynolds’ art to breathe. I’ve always appreciated how much of Mignola’s work let’s the art and atmosphere do the talking, allowing the reader to interpret, rather than spelling everything out with over-flowing word balloons. Golden seems to have a knack for scripting in that more minimal style.
The first 3-issue arc collected in this volume felt a bit more like the creators were finding their legs with the character. The second arc showed a bit more promise. It sets up some interesting teases for the series going forward, particular regarding the history of Joe, who Mr. Church is, and some deeper occult roots in the The Drowning City. I also have to admit that I loved the idea of The Drowning City, a flooded version of 1960’s Manhattan where primary travel is similar to the canals of Venice (with a bit more grime).
If you’ve ever enjoyed a Hellboy book, I’d recommend you give Joe Golem a shot if you’re looking for something new. It feels a bit like slipping on a pair of well-worn shoes. I’m cautiously optimistic that future volumes will allow the series to distinguish itself from past Mignola works.