Joe Golem and the Drowning City: An Illustrated Novel (2012)
Written by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola
Illustrations by Mike Mignola
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Joe Golem and the Drowning City on Amazon
If you live in the Boston area, buy it at Hub Comics or Porter Square Books
You never know what you’ll get on the plate when the chef hats are hoisted onto Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and prolific author Christopher Golden (The Ferryman, The Boys Are Back). Their previous collaboration, Baltimore: Or the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, was an exploration of world war history, but with a bloody vampiric edge. Mignola’s knowledge of folklore blends seamlessly with his obvious love of history, detective stories, and good old fashioned horror. Golden, whose writing radiates with emotional depth, is the perfect co-conspirator. When the two work together, you can be guaranteed a concoction of grotesque monsters, strange machines, and a fascinating cast of characters. You can also count on a profound sense of sincerity and humanity amidst Lovecraftian levels of horror.
Their latest tale, Joe Golem and the Drowning City, is a nightmarish steampunk vision of lower Manhattan, now 30 feet underwater as the result of cataclysmic earthquakes and flooding. Fifty years later, fiery young Molly McHugh traverses the still sinking city via rooftop, avoiding scavengers, water rats, and worse. Her employer and caretaker, the once famous magician Felix Orlov, now ekes out a living as a psychic medium. After a botched seance, Felix is taken prisoner by a group of strange men in gas masks. Molly attempts to track them down, but finds herself pursued by the monstrous masked men.
Molly is rescued by the hulking Joe Golem, a stoic brute who speaks with his massive fists. They hide out in the home of Simon Church, a brilliant but ailing detective who keeps tabs on the strange underworld. Church’s continuing life depends on a mechanical heart, keeping his ultimate foe, death, at bay for the moment. Church fears that a powerful, arcane device called Lector’s Pentaljulum will fall into the hands of the evil Dr. Cocteau.Cocteau, ringleader of the gas-masked men, has plans for the device: plans that will have him communicate with otherworldly monsters to bring about the destruction of our world.
In this sort of high stakes tale you might expect character development to take a back seat to the action. This is not the case in Joe Golem. Though there are striking descriptions of the complex subterranean world amidst white-knuckle action, the characters are equally vivid. Molly is tough and cunning, but fiercely loyal to Felix. Joe is brutish, but possesses a kindness that runs counter to Molly’s experience in the drowning city. The two form a bond, one that will have them take risks where otherwise they’d only look out for themselves. Their relationship is touching, and it speaks of the human connection for which we all long.
At the core of the story lies the question: What separates man from monster? If you’re familiar with Mignola’s work, you know there’s usually more to fear from his human characters, and kindness can manifest in terrifying, hulking creatures. Joe Golem is akin to Hellboy in that his rough-and-tumble exterior is betrayed by a kind heart. One might find either of them petting a kitten shortly after pummeling a giant beast. Once Joe’s true nature is revealed, it’s remarkable he’s able to feel much at all. Joe’s back story fuels a bittersweet final act full of teary goodbyes.
Most of all, Joe Golem and the Drowing City is about finding family in unlikely places. When you’re cold and alone, surrounded by rising water, attacked by masked monsters, what better comfort than to find companionship in a person whose very existence is to fight evil? That’s one hell of a friend.
I can’t recommend this book enough. Buy it. That’s it.