Edited by Kaitlin Campos
Well…this was a pleasant surprise. Cards on the table, I went into Abe Sapien #8 fully expecting to hate the issue, especially based on my utter distaste for the series so far, and yet I come to the Microsoft word document now, surprised and just a little bit humbled at how enjoyable this issue of Abe Sapien was.
Almost completely removed from the ongoing storyline of the series (aside from the thematic connection of Mayan mythology and the broader universe connection of vampires), this story feels like set-up for next issue, but honestly, none of that matters, because as a one-and-done story, issue 8 of Abe Sapien is really damn good. A bit of background for those unfamiliar with this series: Abe Sapien was a popular character in Mike Mignola’s broader universe of Hellboy comics. As an agent of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, Abe is a trained operative and monster fighter, in addition to being a strange fishman with no knowledge of his origins. The series so far has been unrelentingly dark and depressing, in a very immature way that I have personally detested. This issue of Abe Sapien has decided to change all that.
The story is a flashback to 1983 featuring Abe recounting a mission he had to South America to Dr. Brutteholm. An expedition to a cave in South America believes they’ve stumbled upon the site that inspired the Mayan legends of Xibalba, the realm of the dead, but several members of their crew have gone missing in the caverns and they need help in case this turns out to be the real deal, so they’ve called in the Bureau to investigate.
What makes this story work so well is its simplicity. Though not quite as oozing with atmosphere and creepiness as some other Mignola-verse tales, what this issue has in spades is monster fighting. There are some attempts to build a kind of creepy cave atmosphere as Abe dives deeper and deeper into the abyss of the watery Mayan temples, but it’s not really committed to that atmosphere (and good thing, too, because the monster fighting that makes up the issues third act is pure awesomeness).
The main villain is a giant albino bat creature who looks like if the Hulk took the Man-Bat serum, giving him a unique and imposing physical look. He’s not exactly scary by any sense, as his dense physique identifies him as a brawler and fighter more than something that could easily stalk and kill you, but again that works to the comic’s advantage. The story of Abe Sapien #8 is much more of a rock ‘em, sock ‘em adventure beat down than a horror story, and honestly that’s the best decision they could’ve made. With the relentlessly dark and brooding nature of the Abe Sapien comic so far, trying to dabble in horror could’ve easily bogged down this issue in needless and cruel deaths, while here the adventurous almost Indiana Jones-esque nature of the story really brings a sense of fun and excitement to a series that’s been in serious need of it.
If there is a problem to be found in Abe Sapien #8, it’s the very odd shoe horning in of previous and greater world building elements. Mignola has a bad habit of doing this in his stories, to the point where he’s created an interconnected universe so massive and unwieldy that it’s often more of a hindrance than an enhancer. In this case it has to do with Mignola’s recent fascination with vampires, most likely bleeding over from his excellent work on Lord Baltimore. Mignola has been trying to add more vampiric mythology and elements to his standard universe for awhile now, without much quality success (with the notable exception of B.P.R.D. 1946). Vampires had been featured in universe before now, but recently Mignola has been working to form a connecting larger thread and story through various other stories. It all revolves around vampires disappearing off the map and going into hiding and than being forced up out of the Earth by the recent big apocalypse. Of course knowing all of this doesn’t really increase your enjoyment of the story, as it provides no real resolution to the arc— just more of a knowing wink when Abe encounters vampiric Prussian soldiers from the 1700s within the Mayan catacombs.
The problem here is that having the issue tie into the greater mythos actually robs us of a satisfying explanation to the story; we don’t have a legitimate climax here so much as a great big “THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER” sign that’s meant to tide us over. Worst of all it’s not even going to be important in this same comic, which is certainly a let-down that has cost this issue a few points in my book.
This issue of Abe Sapien honestly fills me with dread just because of how good it is. The story is face-paced and enjoyable; none of the characters moan or ache or expound despondently upon the existential meaninglessness of existence and man’s unimportance. It’s chock full of fun monster battles and cool creature designs. I honestly wish the story was longer just to see more of these awesome ideas and that’s what scares me most about the issue; it’s brevity.
Yes, this was a great issue, but I can’t shake that sinking suspicion that it’s a fluke, a one time only deal that is more of a blip on the series than a new trend-setter. There’s no way to tell if this nightmare will become reality or if I’m completely off till the next issue comes out, but until then, I can happily say I very much recommend Abe Sapien #8.