Lobster Johnson: Scent of a Lotus
Written by John Arcudi and Mike Mignola
Art by Sebastián Fiumara, colors by Dave Stewart. Cover by Tonci Zonjic
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Like a lot of the Lobster Johnson stories, a grouping of essentially self-contained period stories from the Hellboy franchise, this book doesn’t have much going on beneath its surface, a thin membrane Old Hollywood throwbacks. A murder in Chinatown ostensibly kicks off events (slowly and without creating interest), a reporter investigates them while shadowed by a pair of detectives, and every character readily drops everything to make moves toward finding the culprit.
But this story is issue one of two, so the inevitable conclusion is stalled for another issue’s worth in dollars and a fair number of talking heads, heads Sebastián Fiumara is left with the unenviable work of drawing. There’s not much story to tell here, so the pages are filled with what looks like practice. Different panels seem to try on “looks” in a noncommittal way, hinting at a range of artists’ work: Matt Kindt, Richard Corben, Klaus Janson and Darwyn Cooke, likely serving the artist more than the book.
That’s not to say the experiment works; the rendering on a lot of these panels clearly involved effort, but it’s less clear how much it involved thought, and the pressure of a deadline seems readily apparent. Fiumara’s actions are blocked awkwardly in favor of blandly competent drawings and what looks to be a good bit of photo-reference, and backgrounds are “knocked out” more often than serves the issue in favor of solid colors.
That’s a bit of a shame—Fiumara’s art looks in long shots than at any other point here. Working in less detail, his inked shadows become a fair bit more expressive, and some hints of a persona emerge from the pressures of influence and deadline. Rare in this thing, a voice and personality become visible, if only faintly.
Of all the mistakes made in the art, not a one of them is so painful as the scripting. There’s not a line of dialogue here that isn’t tired or off-putting, and the most visible work here comes when the writers pat themselves on the back, and repeatedly. That’s more than a little frustrating, since this isn’t a hell of a mystery, and it’s certainly not a hell of a story. It’s a drab and empty comic thinly veiled in Dave Stewart’s sepia (a palette that, even when done by a strong colorist, has never succeeded at making anything look better). Scent of a Lotus couldn’t be more visibly a cash-grab; the visible watermark is as much evidence as the book’s contents. Normally, that watermark, with its implication that the book is worth stealing, would be frustrating—but watermark or no, there’s nothing to be done here; there’s no hope at all of anyone bothering to make this comic better.
– George Elkind