Abe Sapien: Dark & Terrible #1 sees one of Mike Mignola's earliest Hellboy characters return to active duty, as Abe Sapien has awoken from the long-term coma that has kept him out of the majority of the Hell on Earth storyline over in the pages of B.P.R.D. comics. And while we're only one issue in, it's clear that Mignola and company have big plans ahead for Abe.
This issue feels a bit like the tale of two comics, as the first half of the comic is crazy tight, while the second half drags a bit in comparison. Dark & Terrible opens with three quick scenes: two dark and mysterious men trying to raise nefarious spirits (as bad guys are wont to do in the Mignola-verse), a meeting at B.P.R.D. headquarters, and the aftermath of a battle between the military and some of the giant monsters that now populate the entire earth. These scenes - all of which are four pages or less in length - are efficient storytelling at its best. Things move immediately from one scene to the next in a natural way, and before you know it, you've met the figures who will presumably play the role of big bad for the miniseries, had some status quo building and catch up from the B.P.R.D., and subtly linked the main action to that opening dark magic ritual (through a shared location).
Things skip along at the quickest of beats, and you get a strong sense of where things stand. And then the second half of the issue takes place almost entirely on a transport train while a few random characters talk about what's been happening in the United States lately with all those aforementioned giant monsters. This sequence is a really clever way to help bring new readers up to speed, as we get a lot of stories and half-truths about what's happening where, but it goes on a little bit too long.
It's hard to deny that this conversation helps place the narrative in the grander scheme of Mignola's many different creations and books, but it's hard to hide the fact that the sequence ends up being a 10 page conversation in a transport train, no matter how interesting things are from a storytelling or narrative perspective. This is especially true when compared to the quick pacing of the first half, this portion of the comic could have benefited from something to break the sequence up, whether a stronger flashback sequence, being shortened in favour of another scene, or something else entirely.
That being said, the ending moments of the comic manage to create some excitement and raise some puzzling questions that should be create enough interest to lure readers back for more. Sebastián Fiumara's presence as the comic's artist is also a boon for the book, as he provides some amazing artwork to hang this story on. While more and more artists are being tapped to work on these books, it's clear that Mignola et al. always works to ensure that new artists fit in with the style of the world, and Fiumara definitely does. There's a dark grittiness to his lines that really fit in with the tone that Mignola and Scott Allie are going with for this story. It works especially well considering what a dark place the world is in Mignola's comics, with humanity waging what appears to be a losing battle against the monsters who won't seem to go away.
Verdict - Check It. The second half of this book definitely drags a bit, but that's mostly in comparison to the first half, which is paced so tightly that when things loosen up it's hard to ignore. Regardless, there's a lot of good stuff happening in this opening issue. The title is approachable for new readers, open for those wanting to return to the Mignola-verse, and rewarding for those who have stuck with it all along. Scott Allie explains in the letters column that they have big plans for Abe Sapien in the coming years. Abe Sapein: Dark & Terrible #1 shows how serious they are about that.