Pulp Corner: Lobster Johnson – The Satan Factory
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not well versed in the Mignolaverse. I want to be, but my “to read” pile of comics and trades just keeps growing exponentially. I’ve got a little Hellboy and a little B.P.R.D. under my belt, but not much. I knew they had their resident pulpish vigilante hero from the 1930’s Lobster Johnson, but for whatever reason I never got around to reading any of his miniseries. In a foreign comic book store in Buffalo, NY I was wandering through the bookshelves of trades and found a small print novel.
Cool cover? Check
Put out by Dark Horse? Check
Endorsed by Mike Mignola? Check
I was hooked right from the prologue as the story catches up with a terrified American named Jonas Chapel getting drunk in a Mexican cantina with a child who acts as his guide. We find out he was a former employee of a NYC mob boss named Fazzina where he was their medical doctor to service mob patients without having to bring them to the hospital. When he is drunk one night and not able to operate on Fazzina’s brother who ends up dying as result, Chapel scared for his life gets the fuck out of dodge. He knows as well as we do that once you cross a mob boss, it’s only a matter of time before it catches up with you. This all unfolds in the span of 20 or so pages and plays out like a classic Noir. But once the boys find him it takes a whole other turn.
After a chase through the streets of Mexico, Chapel and the boy haul up in this little corner shop/room/holy place and all hell breaks loose. This bleeding statue transforms the little boy into this ravenous beast and he unleashes on Fazzina’s men tearing them to shreds. As I’m writing that it sounds ludicrous, but in the context of the story it felt right. I think that’s the whole beauty of the Mignolaverse, it’s the real world but the supernatural exists. You always feel grounded in reality with some twists…
I spent this time wondering if it was The Lobster’s origin story (it wasn’t), but the next chapter shifts to him and it’s one of the weirdest over the top best introductions to a character I’ve read in awhile. It picks up on that James Bond/Indiana Jones style of starting off the installment with the end of a previous mission. We see Lobster in some fair grounds in NJ, taking out an assortment of Apes and other bizarre creatures in the freak show tent who are being mind controlled by this weird little maggot bodied giant brain, it’s very odd and very spooky. The whole thing ends up being very unsettling.
With the next chapter we again shift point of views again to Jack Hurley a disgraced cop who has become the eyes and ears for Lobster, but also as the reader. This plays on The Shadow’s modus operandi of having a network of people working for you at all times which allows him to truly be everywhere throughout the city. Usually these workers were once saved by The Shadow and Lobster Johnson is no different. This also smartly, gives you a more human level connection to these vigilantes whose work seems sometime otherworldly and allows it to be explained while also keeping them at arm’s length. It would be a letdown if we knew that once Lobster Johnson takes off the gear he fixes cars for a hobby and likes to gamble on horses. This brings us right into the ground floor but still keeps things a mystery.
We find out that Chapel brings the statue back with him to NYC and goes directly to Fazzina rather than avoid him. He basically proposes a deal to him that if they let bygones be bygones they can work together and with access to this statue they can create an army of these crazy ferocious beasts. Fazzina in no position to say no and hungry for more power readily agrees and these two go to work transforming their own men and eventually anyone they can get their hands on, including at one point hordes of homeless people.
As you can imagine, chaos ultimately ensues. Bloody, brutal, twisted, insane chaos. They realize that drinking the blood of one of the creatures can transform you and things get out of control and ramp up very quickly. Think of it as a less hilarious and more demonic Gremlins. Lobster Johnson and his team of agents are pushed to the limits both mentally and physically. By the book’s end the death count is well into the 1,000’s.
Thomas Sniegoski channels the pulp era and it’s writing perfectly here, it’s fast, kinetic, two fisted action. It’s like a mix of The Shadow with all his agents and the straight up bizarre threats and menaces of The Spider. And really if you are looking for some fun golden age pulp stories how can you go wrong using those two as your template? If all the other Hellboy related novels are as good as this one, I’ll definitely be checking out more.
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