"Joe Golem: Occult Detective #1" Comic Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Illustrated by Patric Reynolds
2015, 32 Pages, $3.99
Comic released on November 4th, 2015
Joe Golem's past is a bit of a mystery. He was literally a man of clay and stone, but now he walks the earth as a man of flesh and blood. What's a former mudman to do but work as a private detective? Joe's beat isn't your average area though. He works the Drowning City, formerly known as New York. An earthquake ravaged the place, sending half of it underwater. Now it looks more like Venice than Manhattan. This is just the beginning of the problems facing the area. When a children goes missing under mysterious circumstances, Joe takes the case and goes looking for answers.
Right off the bat, Joe Golem: Occult Detective has a nostalgic feel to it, harkening back to old pulp novels. Dave Palumbo's cover is a perfect homage to that. The book is set in 1965 and it's certainly not the version of that time period that we're familiar with. The Beatles aren't showing up any time soon. New York is a festering cesspool. It looks like little more than a shanty town, with wooden walkways and canals running through the streets. Somehow people are carving out a life in this mess.
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A big part of this nostalgia comes from Patric Reynolds' artwork. Creators Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden have wanted to do a Joe Golem comic for years, but couldn't find the right artist to fit with the book's aesthetics. Reynolds nails it from the very first page. Although the Drowning City is a complete shithole, it looks like a place I'd love to explore, as if it's filled with lost treasures. Anything is possible for an adventurous youngster, whether that's getting into trouble or fighting literal monsters.
And oh, are there monsters. There's one in particular that is only seen briefly. It's literally in two panels in the entire comic, but its appearance is terrifying. It comes out of nowhere and leaves a deep mark in the story. Piercing eyes cut right to your very soul as it takes what it wants and disappears with you sitting in shock as to what just took place.
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Joe is a tortured soul, haunted by nightmares of a past he can't quite remember. He has a vision in brutal detail, showing a rocky form murdering witches that were terrorizing a small town overseas. The creature crushes skulls as if they were overripe melons, blood and gore running through its fingers like juices. Joe takes charge of his own life, although he's not entirely sure where he came from or why. There's a great exchange between him and his mysterious roommate Simon Church, in which Joe points out that if he takes on a case, it's his case and no one else's. It's like he's defining his role in his own comic, explaining that he's the star, not a sidekick.
Church is another character surrounded by questions, but perhaps more from our end than his. He clearly knows more than he lets on, like he's pulling strings in the background, setting up Joe for some unknown purpose. We see him inject himself with a strange concoction and it's clearly something he's done several times before.
Joe Golem: Occult Detective is a solid read that can sit toe-to-toe with the classics of noir and old private eye classics. The supernatural bend gives it a creepy twist, although it's still grounded in the reality of this world. It's just that this world also has strange monsters and witches. Joe wants to do the right thing and that means saving these kids, especially when no one else is stepping up to do so. Just how much trouble is he getting himself into though?