"Joe Golem and the Drowning City" Book Review
Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
2012, Fiction, 284 Pages
Released on March 27th, 2012
2012 may be the year that the Mayans predicted the world will end, but what if an epic catastrophe occurred a hundred years prior? What if this caused half of New York City to get sucked underwater, leaving the rich uptown area and the poor downtown? That's the location of the latest work of prose from Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden entitled Joe Golem and the Drowning City. In case you hadn't figured it out, the city referenced in the title is the new name of downtown NYC.
The book picks up about fifty years after the cataclysm that caused all this destruction. Little is said about the why or how this happened. It just did and now the residents of the city are left to pick up the pieces and adapt the best they can. Within the remains of Manhattan is Felix Orlov, a medium that's been living in the city for decades. He still practices his craft, but now he does so with the aid of a young assistant, Molly McHugh, whom he has taken in. One day things start out like normal -- or as normal as life with Felix can be -- as the old man conducts a séance to speak to a client's dead relatives. Something goes wrong and some mysterious figures burst in and kidnap Felix. Molly barely escapes, but only with the help of the strange brute of a man known only as Joe.
It's then that Molly is thrown into a mystical battle of sorts between two aged conjurers, both seeking Lester's Pentajulem, an ancient magical artifact known to give anyone who possesses it great power. With the maguffin in place, the chase begins as Molly is in the middle with the goal of saving Felix. Is she ready to sacrifice everything for this man's safety? Even it means the end of the world as she knows it?
I've been a fan of Mike Mignola's for some time. His work on Hellboy and B.P.R.D. from Dark Horse Comics is second to none. Christopher Golden has worked with Mignola on Baltimore, which was another stellar comic, so Joe Golem was instantly something I wanted to check out as soon as it popped up on my radar.
This is presented as an "illustrated novel", which just means that the text is interspersed with an occasional sketch from Mignola. These are small and provide a quick snapshot to an object or person from a scene. There's little in the way of detail, but they're nice to break up the pace a bit. Considering Mignola's talent for comics, Joe Golem might have worked better as a full fledge funny book. I found that a lot of time is spent providing ample description to each aspect of a scene. These are things that could have been quickly covered in a single panel of a comic. I'm not going to pretend that this novel, which comes close to 300 pages, would boil down to just one issue, but I could see it as an original graphic novel. The phrase "A picture's worth a thousand words" would definitely apply in that transition.
That being said, Joe Golem has a pretty basic formula. You've got an innocent yet feisty young girl and a rough thug with a heart of gold. They're teamed up to stop an old wizard of sorts and prevent the end of the world. Along the way they both learn a lesson about life. What sets the book apart is how Mignola and Golden develop these characters. You're thrown right into Molly's life and everything about her is instantly relatable. Granted, I don't know what it's like to live on my own in a city half submerged in water, but the feelings of loneliness, newfound acceptance, and reluctant trust are ones that anyone can identify with.
The title character is where the creators really shine. If you hadn't figured it out yet, Joe is a golem, a creature that looks like a man, built with rock and dirt and brought to life with magic for a specific purpose. Joe had accomplished his task and was rewarded for it. His overall story is pretty tragic but it's one that I wanted to read more and more about.
Joe Golem and the Drowning City is a decent read, but as mentioned earlier, I think it would have worked better as a graphic novel. Mignola and Golden pay a lot of attention to detail, which is great to paint the mental picture of what's going on, but can get a little dry from time to time. The characters are where the book comes through as both Molly and Joe really stand out as strong personalities. It's an unlikely pair to stop the end of the world, but sometimes that's just what you need.