I was hoping for some kind of redemption regarding the “Abe Sapien” ongoing series with this volume. That title wound up being consistently mediocre with an ending that didn’t wrap up much of what had come before. Yet sprinkled throughout the ongoing title’s run were one-off stories featuring work from several different artists both known and unknown to me. Freed from the disappointing confines of the main story, I was expecting that Mike Mignola and Scott Allie (with John Arcudi co-writing a short) would be able to finally tell some compelling stories regarding the title character. That didn’t really wind up being the case here, but at least the art for each story didn’t disappoint.
Case in point: Mike Oeming illustrates the first story here, “The Land of the Dead,” in his trademark style and it works out great. His clean animation-esque work fits well for a story involving dark caves in an underground Mayan ruin, and Oeming’s monster designs -- involving a Prussian vampire and a giant humanoid bat-creature -- are pretty impressive. Though that last bit is true of all the artists featured here. The story itself is fairly inconsequential as it has Abe playing rescue for a missing group of archaeologists and fighting the aforementioned creatures along the way. Mignola and Allie try to tie the story into the larger Mignolaverse narrative about the vampires, and give a nod to Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon’s “Vampire” story along the way, but it all feels rather pointless in the end.
Much less pointless is “Witchcraft & Demonology” as it details the background of Gustav Strobl, the main antagonist of the “Abe Sapien” series. In fact, this arguably should’ve been included in the previous collections at the point where it was originally serialized so thoroughly does it flesh out the man’s character. We learn about his childhood at the Black School where he began his study of the dark arts, subsequent consortings with witches and demons, his death and time in Hell, brief meetings with Trevor Bruttenholm and Hellboy, and his publication of a book on demons which got the B.P.R.D.’s attention when it was published.
All of this background information is nice to have, no question about it. The main issue here is that it’s told in a very straightforward fashion with a final twist that’s so obvious Mignola and Allie should be ashamed for having rolled it out here. Yet the story remains thoroughly memorable for its art by Santiago Caruso who gives it the look of historical nightmare. Caruso’s intricate style recalls old illustrations of demons and witchcraft in a frequently impressive and frightening manner. While the story he’s tasked with illustrating doesn’t really challenge Caruso to deliver proper sequential art, the images alone make this much less of an issue than it would seem.
Next up is a story from an artist who is no stranger to the Mignolaverse. Kevin Nowlan previously illustrated the comedic one-off “Buster Oakley Gets His Wish” (collected in vol. 11 of “Hellboy”) and here he gives us a team-up with Abe and Hellboy. To diminishing returns, I’m sorry to say. Nowlan doesn’t really get a chance to show us what he can do here, as he’s stuck drawing a rural lakeside community, its inhabitants, and an Ogopogo for a couple of pages. It all looks nice enough, but the artist has done far more memorable work elsewhere. The story itself does get a little mileage from showing Abe and Hellboy working together again, even if it is in flashback. Yet the story ultimately fails to go anywhere interesting with an ending that feels like the writers threw up their hands and went, “Okay, we’re done.”
John Arcudi co-writes the shortest story in this volume, “Subconscious”, and while it would please me to no end to say that it’s easily the best story in the volume that’s not really the case. It does have Abe interacting with ghosts who are bound to a sunken ship, which is a plus. Except that the core of the story is fairly slight, as it involves Abe relating his experience to Hellboy in a letter while resolving that he needs to try harder to fit in with the B.P.R.D. The art from Mike Nelson is pretty nice, save for the reddish halo effect he gives to the undersea ghosts which honestly makes the coloring look kind of sloppy.
“Lost Lives” takes place in the very brief window of time when Roger the Homunculus was a field agent (and took after Ben Daimio’s personality) and Abe had retreated into the research part of the B.P.R.D. This story boasts some fantastically detailed art from Juan Ferreyra, who delivers probably the strongest work of the volume. He’s given plenty of opportunities to show what he can do, from a cultish love-in gone wrong, flashbacks to show off the frightening transformation effects of the frogs, and a very tentacle-y assault in Abe’s lab. It’s a shame that the art isn’t in service of a better story that, again, doesn’t feel like it goes anywhere. While the story sets up a confrontation between Roger and Abe over the latter’s role in the organization, it subsequently brings in doomed Agent Vaughan and then the tentacle action begins. As an excuse to give Ferreyra a lot of cool stuff to draw, that’s the only level on which this thing works.
Finally we have “Icthyo Sapien” which flashes all the way back to Abe’s human incarnation, Langdon Caul, and his time with the Oannes Society. After Caul is informed that a scientist friendly to the Society has obtained what might be a frozen specimen of the Atlantean race, he’s sent off to recover it. There’s really not much more to the story than that, though an appearance by the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra does liven things up a bit along the way. Alise Guskova delivers some colorful and appealing art with some not-bad action as well. Unfortunately she winds up delivering what is probably the silliest visual in the entire volume: The fish-styled outfit of Oannes’ leader. While the salmon-looking headgear he wears is bad enough, the evening-gown-styled lower half of his outfit makes me wonder how he’s supposed to walk in it.
So there you have it. “Abe Sapien’s” legacy as an ongoing series is not redeemed by the one-off stories in this volume. They even fail to offer much significance to the mythology of the Mignolaverse as a whole. At least the stories here provided several talented artists a chance to show what they’re capable of, and the opportunity for fans of Nowlan to see more work from him. Sorry, but he really has done better work elsewhere. “Lost Lives and Other Stories” ultimately winds up being for fans of quality art and serious Mignolaverse completists.