Abe Sapien (Vol. 1): The Drowning: Abe Sapien disturbs a shipwreck

Abe Sapien (Vol. 1): The Drowning by Mike MignolaAbe Sapien (Vol. 1): The Drowning by Mike Mignola (writer), Jason Shawn Alexander (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), and Clem Robins (letters)

The Abe Sapien series is nine volumes long, and it is an essential part of the Hellboy canon. The series is as good as the Hellboy series and should not be missed by any fans of Mignola’s Hellboy universe. Abe Sapien: The Drowning starts off mysteriously in 1884 as a man boards a ship from a Victorian steampunk-like blimp and begins shooting men with writing on their chests. The action is accompanied only by the words of “You Gentlemen of England” by Martin Parks. It is a fantastic, haunting, opening sequence. The man, we soon find out, is Sir Edward Grey, British occult detective and special agent to Queen Victoria (Mignola has written a series about Sir Edward Grey). Grey, unfortunately, goes down with the ship.

In the present of the book, 1981, we drop in on a conversation taking place at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense Headquarters. The discussion is about whether Abe Sapien should be sent out on his first mission without Hellboy, who took a leave of absence from the B.P.R.D. from 1979 to 1981. Eventually, the Professor decides to send Abe out on the mission. The Professor, who oversees Hellboy and Abe at the B.P.R.D., tells Abe about Edward Grey, who, we find out, did manage, barely, to escape alive that day on the ship. We are told that he used one of ten specially made daggers — Lipu daggers — to put an end to a supernatural threat on board. And since the dagger went down with the ship and since Abe is an amphibious person who breathes underwater, the Professor sends him out to retrieve the dagger now that they have located the ship. The Professor also wants Abe to retrieve the remains of Vrooman, the warlock Grey killed with the dagger.

Abe, with three B.P.R.D. agents, heads off to a small island by the name of Saint-Sebastien, which is near where the ship went down. Two of the agents stay on the island, and Abe and another agent take out a small zodiac to examine the wreckage. As the Professor says, “It should be a very simple operation.” But this is a Mike Mignola book in the Hellboy universe, so we know that those words will not come true: Soon Abe and his partner are attacked by sea creatures seemingly controlled by an old, mysterious woman in a darkened apartment on the island. Events take an even darker turn after that. Beings of a kind crawl from the wreckage and come onto the island, with destruction preceding them.

I like this comic because the history of the island is an interesting one, and most of that history is told to Abe by a dead woman, a witch, whose biography is central to the story. Along with the history of the island, the old woman tells Abe more about the dead warlock, who is connected with the story of a much older, and even more evil, being, and the tale of that soul is also told to us by the old, dead woman.

I also like this comic because Abe’s character is developed beyond what we get in the Hellboy books. We see him struggle with self-doubt as he questions his abilities in the midst of disaster. He imagines first Hellboy and then the Professor coming to him and telling him that he had too much confidence in coming here to the island without Hellboy’s superior help. Abe also wrestles with self-blame, wondering how much that happens on the island is his fault. This character development, along with action scenes as good as or better than a Hellboy comic, makes Abe Sapien: The Drowning a must-read for fans of Mike Mignola and the Hellboy universe. This volume is a five-star start to the series.


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BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Read Brad's series on HOW TO READ COMICS.

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