Chris Roberson is one of Mike Mignola’s better writing partners, but he still has his issues. Chief among them being a willingness to take a more fanboyish approach to the Mignolaverse without fully considering whether the story he’s telling adds anything meaningful to it. Like, say, what if Sir Edward “Witchfinder” Grey found himself in the middle of Jack the Ripper’s mad murder spree? That’s the kind of fanboyishness I’m talking about, and it also happens to be a red herring in spite of what the back cover text would have you believe. While the story starts off with Sir Edward investigating the death of prostitutes in Whitechapel, the murders have the markings of ritual sacrifices about them. The Witchfinder does have a prime suspect, but it quickly becomes clear that he has his own kind of protection from the law. With his usual support from the Crown seemingly nowhere to be found, Sir Edward teams up with feisty American expatriate Sarah Jewell to put an end to the killings and find out who was behind them.
Sarah isn’t the only nod to the wider Mignolaverse that you’ll see in this story. Panya makes a cameo appearance, a vampire left over from vol. 4 will show up, the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra shows up as you’d expect, and the plot even makes time to include Hecate as well. Fanboyishness leads to fanservice, you could say. I think all of these nods would bother me less if the story they served as window dressing to was better. As it is, “The Reign of Darkness” mainly serves to set up a change in Sir Edward’s status quo for future stories. So the tale of “That Time the Witch Queen Who Will Kill Hellboy (Almost) Showed Up” might be the harbinger of better stories, even though it could also serve as the finale of this series-of-minseries. After this volume, I’m feeling pretty indifferent as to whichever way it goes.