‘Not quite sustained perfection, but still pretty damn good’ – Witchfinder (Vol 3) – The Mysteries of Unland by Kim Newman, Maura McHugh, Tyler Crook, Clem Robins and Dave Stewart
As with Lobster Johnson, Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder is a comic that has grown out of the Hellboy universe, and as with Lobster Johnson it has become a comic whose roots are hard to distinguish, so robust and individual a tale in its own right has it become. Volume 3 treads the not quite well-worn path of drafting in a cult writer to enliven proceedings (as Alan Moore did, bringing in Steve Aylett to have a go at Tom Strong a few years ago) and Kim Newman, journalist and horror writer, does a tremendous job of adding local colour to what is after all an American comic set in Victorian England.
This time around, Sir Edward – who we’ve already seen caught up in all manner of no good in the London underworld and the American west – is sent, to his chagrin, to investigate the death of one of her majesty’s court-appointed officials in the small town of Hallam, whose fortunes rest on the production of a magical medicinal elixir. Sir Edward is a bit put out if truth be told and he doesn’t have much time for the local bobby or indeed for the speed with which the murder has been gussied up (a lovely slightly racist sepia tone comic presents the official view of events and is the kind of playfulness we should be seeing a lot more of in this strip). There is something quite comic and droll as Sir Edward is shown about the factory and introduced to the rich family whose fortunes rest on getting the royal seal of approval on their awful eel-infused unguent, and this drollery serves to provide the horror when it comes with added zest.
Despite the comedy and the great many small touches that set this apart from previous Witchfinder outings (which are all thanks to the dialogue which is truly impressive), The Mysteries of Unland never forgets it’s a horror comic first and foremost and so we see a great many things that we would probably rather not, from small children with glassy black eyes to large floating eels given to fizzing and crackling and locals whose faces have a tendency to explode as all manner of oomska bursts forth. There’s also a great deal of creepiness of the sorts you’d find in John Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos (you know, small communities that know more than they’re letting on, lots of dastardly dealings hushed up, lots of shared glances replete with secrets and ghastliness). It doesn’t all hold entirely together – what amounts to the final issue of the comics is a little rushed, a little hectic and a little lacking in sense – but everything that is good about it more than makes up for everything that could have done with a little fine tuning. Although the Dark Horse wiki page on Witchfinder says that a third outing was to be the final case for Witchfinder, The Mysteries of Unland would seem to indicate that there’ll be more from Witchfinder before too long – and going off the way in which the quality of Lobster Johnson goes on improving, we think we can expect bigger and better things from Witchfinder before too long too.
Any Cop?: It’s not quite sustained perfection, but volume 3 of Witchfinder is still pretty damn good, with much to recommend it. If they could just make sure that all of the threads of the story tie up nicely (or hang in a provocative way, we’re fine with both) in the future, that would be tickety boo.
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- April 29, 2015 / 9:00 am