Witchfinder: City of the Dead continues the adventures of Sir Edward Grey, occult investigator by Appointment to her Majesty, Queen Victoria and created by Mike Mignola. This fourth instalment of the Hellboy spin-off, which was originally published as five individual comics, finds Mignola back in the writer’s chair sat alongside Chris Roberson, with artwork by Ben Stenbeck.
It’s August 1882 and following Grey’s expeditions to the Weird Wild West in Lost and Gone Forever (2012) and the dank eel-infested wetlands of The Mysteries of Unland (2015, written by Kim Newman and Maura McHugh) we find him back on his home turf in London where a strange discovery is made during the excavation of the new Tower of London underground railway station (reminiscent of Quatermass and the Pit, 1958-59). Three men discover a tunnel leading down to a mysterious ancient temple and only one comes back. Meanwhile, Grey is summoned to the Metropolitan Police hospital where the body of a grave robber is on the mortuary slab. Apparently, the rascal died after being bitten by a corpse excavated from a cemetery, and I think we know he isn’t going to stay on that slab for long.
Working on forensic and psychic dream evidence Grey’s investigation will involve Jewish cemeteries, the deeply shrouded residence of a sinister Eastern European nobleman, ancient cults and legends, an African medicine man and an uneasy alliance with an old enemy. Along the way he will acquire a feisty female sidekick who I hope will become a regular fixture in the series. The writing is crisp and original and Ben Stenbeck’s artwork very nicely evoked the familiar imagery of Victorian London that is so familiar to us from Hammer horror movies and the numerous Sherlock Holmes adaptations. This artwork is very nicely finished off with a soft muted almost monochromatic palette by colourist Michelle Madsen giving the whole work a suitable period resonance.
Sure Mignola has played around a bit with history (grave robbing in the UK had more or less stopped following the passage of the 1832 Anatomy Act), but why let that get in the way of your enjoyment of this marvellous mash-up piece of Steampunked Victorian Gothic with extra shades of HP Lovecraft and a dose of Spaghetti Western style gunplay?
Aside from the five collected comics that make up this volume the appendix contains some very nice annotated sketches by Ben Stenbeck and cover artist Julian Totino Tedesco showing some of the stages of the finished work.