'Joe Golum and the Drowning City,’ an illustrated novel

McClatchy NewspapersApril 25, 2012 

Stir in a little H. P. Lovecraft and magic, season it with apocalyptic gloom, and you have “Joe Golum and the Drowning City.”

Horror author Christopher Golden and artist Mike Mignola, creator of the comic “Hellboy,” have collaborated on an illustrated novel.

New York is “The Drowning City” set in an alternate world where earthquakes in 1922 start disasters that culminate with half of Manhattan under water.

“New York became divided between wealthy, glittering Uptown and the struggling poor who remained in the drowning Downtown because they had nowhere else to go.” There inhabitants live a miserable water-based existence of crime, survival and scavenging.

Felix Orlov, an elderly magician who can talk to ghosts is kidnapped by gas-masked men working for a Dr. Cocteau. His self-assigned teen assistant, Molly, is determined to rescue him — if only she can save herself from the same attackers.

She’s rescued by Joe Golum, a towering hulk of a man, who works for the long-lived scientist Frank Church who explains that Orlov was taken because of the circumstances of his birth — a mixture of black magic and out-of-this-world evil.

The chase to rescue Orlov and the final resolution are purely out of the comic books. “Joe Golum” reads very much like an adapted-to-print graphic novel with the same leaps of faith that you need when reading comics — such as miraculous escapes and submarines that navigate water-filled subways.

You may also need a strong stomach.

“The ghostly Orlov weeps tears of anguish and futility, for he can do nothing to help the woman splayed grotesquely on the yellow marble altar, its surface cut through with runnels to capture her blood and other fluids.”

Despite the gruesome beginning, “Joe Golum” tells a lively story with characters make you want to find out what has happens next. For example, “On the threshold, fourteen-year-old Molly McHugh beamed at him, all freckles and red hair and youthful vigor that always made him feel more alive.”

Like many comics and graphic novels, it does not shy away from death. Major characters pass away — some peacefully, some not — and death is definitely not the end for most. The culmination reshapes the drowned city of New York, the city of a million stories, yet again. Just in time for a sequel

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“Joe Golum and the Drowning City” by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden; St. Martin’s Press ($25.99)

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