I've been hearing about the eminent arrival of Abe Sapien #12 for some time, and knew that this issue of the comic is going to bring a big shift in directions for upcoming arcs featuring Abe, kicking off what may be a new recurring character as well. But for me the book is a change in the way I see Abe because he's pitted against the effects of the burgeoning apocalypse in the Hellboy Universe, and rather than battling monsters on a gigantic scale this time around, he's dealing with the broken humanity that's being pushed aside like so much flotsam in the wake of global events.
Part of the dominant impression of this comic comes from the stellar artwork of Max Fiumara, who shared his very detailed process on the book on Bleeding Cool previously. He crafts a tale in close-up beats featuring the faces and reactions of the main characters and offsets this focus with some haunting, simple landscapes and architecture. There's plenty of contrast with expectations in the artwork and the plot, too, since the story is set in a rural cabin in a dry dust-bowl like environment, the every opposite of a place you'd expect to find an amphibious being like Abe.
The absence of water makes the story feel very stark, and that's accented by Dave Stewart's colors on the book with gold-washed hues and plenty of dry-wood grain detail for the farmhouse and the surrounding woods. The angles Fiumara chooses are also unsual, sharp, and full of dramatic postures that have emotional impact on how we view the characters. The Fiumara-Stewart team up creates a seamless sense of a remote and desolate environment that not only helps contain and focus the story, but amps up the intensity of events that take place within it.
It's impossible to overlook the literary and mythological associations this issue conjures because the story features a central character who has been steeped in Biblical and apocalyptic lore by a strangely violent and fixated adoptive father and we "hear" what he sees in the world around him. He's a scary guy in many ways, but writers on the book Scott Allie and Mike Mignola present him as a figure who is not without sympathy because he's been driven to psychological extremes by his upbringing and is trying to cope with a world gone mad by viewing it through the lens of religious iconography. It's no surprise that when encountering Abe, he sees the "serpent" of the book of Genesis and all the pits himself against the intruder. It's a tinder-box of a situation that Abe chooses to confront in an expression of his own humane nature.
This comic also features a captive female character who has suffered terrible losses during the onset of hell on earth and her own psychological breakdown is explored in tandem with our religious zealot. Scott Allie spoke with us in an interview a few weeks ago about the ways in which presenting a battered female character was challenging and perhaps a little controversial and his reasons for pursuing this storyline, which may resolve itself further in future issues.
One big thing that this comic accomplishes is looking in a very close-up way at the psychological impact of the apocalyptic destruction overtaking humankind in the Hellboy Universe. In an era when mainstream comics, and even creator-owned comics seem to overload readers with images of mass destruction without presenting the individual impact of those events, Abe Sapien #12 refuses to shy away into grand spectacle. By narrowing down the story to just a few characters and narrating the comic in the first person, omnisciently moving inside the minds of two of the characters, we get a glimpse of the deep layers of trauma in effect. This helps us understand the ways in which the world of the story has regressed to cope with overwhelming and terrifying events. Abe's calm, relentless sanity in this comic forms the perfect counterbalance and the reader can't help but see him as a savior-figure striving to set some of the wrongs of the world right again.
Between Fiumara's and Stewart's artwork, which takes you into a visual experience that's full of striking panels and lasting impressions, and the way in which Abe is handled, as a relentless force of saving grace in the face of personal danger, this reads like a classic hero story, but more drawn from the tradition of Western novels and films, or American Gothic motifs in literature, painting, and comics, than from the superhero vein. One thing is sure: you won't ever see Abe in quite the same way again after reading it because his most basic admirable qualities are stripped bare and presented in their full value to humanity. It's a spotlight he deserves, but tellingly, it's all accomplished by seeing him through the eyes of other characters and seeing the ways in which he can bring hope to their world.
Abe Sapien #12 is out today, May 14th, from Dark Horse Comics
Hannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter