*Review by contributor Lido Giovacchini
Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus is quickly becoming one of my favorite books Dark Horse publishes and Mignola writes. The stories are quick and punchy and never with grounding in pulp styles and sensibilities that makes them great and fun and helps them avoid the over heavy and over dark nature of Mignola’s work with BPRD. I reviewed the first issue of A Scent of Lotus for this site and in case you missed it I praised the comic for some really great artwork, a solid pace with strong momentum, and at the time what seemed like tentative steps by the character into new waters. Well now issue 2 is out and it has all those same great qualities but amped up even more so.
The story of A Scent of Lotus is that the New York Tong are being targeted by a mysterious assassin who strikes at their bag man who are trying to deliver large shipments of money and now Lobster Johnson is gunning for the assassin. I really like this premise as it actually helps change up the idea of Lobster’s character. Johnson has never been overburdened with depth in my opinion, he reminds me a lot of Judge Dredd both in character and more specifically in the way he talks usually in short direct bursts peppering sentences with the word justice and lending everything he says a powerful gravitas of proclamation. But despite the likableness of his powerful demeanor he’s still been somewhat simplistic in that there’s nothing else to his character beyond fighting crime and bringing evil to justice. In that last respect he’s again similar to Judge Dredd or Stannis Baratheon from Game of Thrones in how he sees justice as clearly defined, black and white with no exceptions. That’s part of what makes this story with the Tong so interesting because it forces Lobster into a position where he is actively fighting to keep criminals (the people he’s usually gunning down) safe from the mystic assassin and at one point is actually saved by one of the Tong henchmen. I like that Lobster can prioritize villainy and in his mind anyone who would murder their fellow man is evil regardless of whom they might prey upon. This idea is continued in the revelations of the book here and sense I want to talk about them spoilers ahead, if you don’t want them just know the book is very good and you should buy it.
It’s revealed that the Tong is trying run cash to their family and friends in Manchuria, which is currently under Japanese occupation as part of Imperial Japan’s expansion in the decade prior to World War 2. Furthermore it’s revealed that the assassin is a Japanese agent sent to America to stop the Tong’s attempt to fund the resistance in Manchuria. Again I like how Lobster views this revelation as a sign he can turn something of a blind eye to the Tong, that even though they are drug runners they too serve a greater good, they’re drug runners and freedom fighters, both the good and the bad. I should say a lot of Johnson’s feelings towards these revelations aren’t spoken outright but are generally implied through his actions, a lot of this is stuff you can read over how Lobster chooses to act and who he turns his claw of justice upon.
There is however a B story in Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus #2 that is nowhere near as good and doesn’t really go anywhere. It focuses around a reporter who works closely with Johnson’s crew and her ex-boyfriend a police officer rekindling their romance. Nothing actually comes of it as the ex-boyfriend is just trying to use the woman to get to Lobster Johnson, a ploy she sees through almost immediately shutting him down and ending the plot right there without really changing much of the status quo. One of the nice things about Lobster Johnson is that even though there’s no plot blurb for new readers a lot of the core parts of the series such as the assassin, the hits on the Tong bag men, and the relationship between the cop and the reporter are all established for the reader in dialogue within the pages of the book.
The artwork in Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus #2 is sadly a step down, it’s missing the fine use of lighting the previous issue had and there are a few panels without backgrounds or with action that doesn’t really add up from one panel to the next. For instance there’s one part where a Tong enforcer bursts through an entire wall like the Kool Aid man coming out of the 2nd floor of a building but in the next panel they’re outside on the ground level without having fallen. But there’s still a lot of solidly dynamic action within the book and a very well drawn flashback sequence.
Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus #2 is a great example of a conclusion done excellently. It enhances the good aspects of the previous comic and takes the character to a new place while never feeling slow or bogged down. It’s a fun, quick, punchy pulp piece with an infectiously enjoyable protagonist who never fails to endear himself to the audience and a really cool villain for him to fight. I highly recommend this issue for new readers and old fans a like.