Joe Golem and the Drowning City by Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden – A review
There was a time in America from the Nineteen Twenties to the Nineteen Fifties (before T.V) when reading was the number one past time. In the Nineteen Thirties you could have walked past a news stand (Picture New york here, like in the old movies) where you would find racks and racks of Magazines with titles like Weird Tales, Black Mask and Amazing Stories filled to the brim with stories in them. Pulp magazines “The pulps” as they were called were a great form of escape from the dreary realities of the Depression and War. Some of the greatest fantasy and horror authors ever cut there teeth writing for magazines like this. Robert E Howard, H P Lovecraft and Edgar Rice Burroughs to name a few. Oh the stories they would create, H p Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, Robert E Howard’s Adventures of Solomon Kane and Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter of Mars. Those times are gone now but the stories remained for a new generation of readers. Two authors of the current generation sat up and took notice of those old tales. Borrowing their father’s or even grandfathers old pulp books and studied them intently, reading them every chance they got. They are author/illustrator Mike Mignola and fantasy author Christopher Golden.
Armed with the knowledge of the pulps they set out to create their second collaboration aptly named Joe Golem and the Drowning city.
In 1925, earthquakes and a rising sea level left Lower Manhattan submerged under more than thirty feet of water, so that its residents began to call it the Drowning City. Those unwilling to abandon their homes created a new life on streets turned to canals and in buildings whose first three stories were underwater. Fifty years have passed since then, and the Drowning City is full of scavengers and water rats, poor people trying to eke out an existence, and those too proud or stubborn to be defeated by circumstance.
Among them are fourteen-year-old Molly McHugh and her friend and employer, Felix Orlov. Once upon a time Orlov the Conjuror was a celebrated stage magician, but now he is an old man, a psychic medium, contacting the spirits of the departed for the grieving loved ones left behind. When a seance goes horribly wrong, Felix Orlov is abducted by strange men wearing gas masks and rubber suits, and Molly soon finds herself on the run.
Her flight will lead her into the company of a mysterious man, and his stalwart sidekick, Joe Golem, whose own past is a mystery to him, but who walks his own dreams as a man of stone and clay, brought to life for the sole purpose of hunting witches.
Joe Golem and the Drowning City has the feel, pace , character design and plot outline of the Pulp Stories of the Nineteen Thirties, and rightly so. Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden have done their homework. Being an old lover of the pulps myself, especially of the stories of Robert E Howard and HP Lovecraft, I can truly see their influences in the overall story, and that might be why it feels a little repetitive when I read it and here’s why.
You See Mike Mignola is also a folklorist in his own right. He has studied a lot of myth and folktales from around the world, and it shows even here in his description of some of mythic creatures of the past. Yet the plot in Joe golem and the drowning city is a lot like a lot of other works of Mike Mignola (Hellboy for instance), where his characters fighting to save the world from yet again, the Old Ones; which is the standard plot for the Cthulhu Mythos. Now in going with a pulp like feel I say it works quite well here, especially if you haven’t read any of his other work. You can see they were going for the Weird Tales retro style storytelling that made H.P Lovecraft such a good author. But if you are a fan of B.P.R.D or Hellboy it kind feels a little clichéd, Even Joe the main protagonist acts a lot like Mike Mignola’s titillating comic book hero. And knowing Mike Mignola’s love and knowledge of folklore he probably could have pulled something a little different out of his hat. I feel in some ways that because of plot similarities to his other works, the nature of the plot is the only let down of this book, because it has been done before, several times.
What is also interesting about Joe Golem and the Drowning city, is that this is also an illustrated novel. Mike Mignola lent his remarkably talented ink stained hand to the beautiful art work that is printed throughout the book. Inked in thick black tones with heavy lines and lots of shadowing. This technique gives the prints the overall effect of a very gothic feel, which would feel right at home in one of the old pulp magazines like Weird tales or Amazing Stories. Alan Moore has described Mignola’s style as “German expressionism meets Jack Kirby”. His style has also been likened to an amalgamation of Jack Kirby and Alex Toth Which isn’t too far of a stretch considering.
Over all I found Joe Golem and the Drowning city a very good read despite its flaws. So If you are looking for a quick read that takes you back to the good old days of pulp fiction, give Joe Golem and the Drowning city a try. And while you are at it I would also recommend picking up Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden’s first collaboration “Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire ” you won’t be disappointed.
Posted on July 5, 2013, in Reviews and tagged Book Review, Christopher Golden, Cthulhu Mythos, Fantasy, illustrated novel, Joe Golem, Mike Mignola, pulp books, Steampunk, Weird Tales, Young Adult. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.