In Review: Crimson Lotus #2

Sensational spy action paired with supernatural shocks.

The cover: One of the most disturbing images I’ve ever encountered in a Lobster Johnson comic are monkeys wearing Noh masks. Their white smiling bulbous faces, with red eyes, and their hairy humanoid bodies make them the creepiest of combinations. Artist Tonci Zonjic focuses on three of these creatures who look absolutely monstrous as they gaze at the reader. Behind this inhuman trio in the misty red ether is the Crimson Lotus, the title character and sole master of these beasts. This is a great cover that I’ll never be able to unsee. Overall grade: A+

The story: This issue captures the best elements of a spy novel and supernatural horrors. John Arcudi opens with Shengli receiving orders off panel to get on a train and read a dossier on Colonel Suriv. When the train stops at Sihua, Agent Baolu will board to speak with him. As these orders are given the visuals show a female reaching for a screeching monkey and placing a Noh mask on it. Baolu is then shown boarding the train, but not before being accosted by a beggar woman selling flowers. A secret knock and an exchange of passwords has Baolu entering Shengli’s quarters to tell him that it would be best if he was no longer seen as part of Colonel Suriv’s security team. He proceeds to reveal that Suriv altered Baolu to a shipment of Japanese arms that is travelling by train deep into the Chinese interior. “They aim to extend a military presence outside of Manchuria. The colonel was waiting on specific dates for the shipment when he disappeared.” This revelations ends in things going wrong quickly. There’s a terrific reveal, a quick fight, an explosive exit, action in the train car, action on the train cars, and a brilliant, classy escape in disguise. This summary makes it seem very much like a classic spy adventure and it is. It’s on Page 16 where the tone takes a frightful turn. It starts incredibly small, as one would expect, and then goes explosive on 18. HOLY CRAP! I actually jumped at that reveal! Things are seemingly brought down considerably on 19, but the story then goes into the realm of the fantastic with supernatural overtones. What occurs is twisted, sickening, and wildly brilliant. The last image of the book increases the tension of next issue exponentially. This story left me tired from the shocks. Overall grade: A+

The art: Mindy Lee also does an exceptional job in this issue with her visuals. I love how the book begins by showing the Noh masks on a table, then followed by a hand in a cage with the primates, who recoil in horror. The look of fear on the monkey’s face as it’s held in the Lotus’s hand is palpable, but with the mask thrust onto its face, its demeanor changes and it becomes a different creature, visually for its face and its stance. Pages 2 and 3 are beautiful, looking as though they are from a classic 1940’s spy movie, following Baolu as he makes his way onto the train. Shengli looks as though he’s James Bond, smoking a cigarette and incredibly smart in a stylish white suit. The shock that starts Page 5 is excellent because the reader hasn’t yet seen what’s stopped the pair’s conversation. The action on 6 is awesome, with the newcomer outstanding. The major action on 8 is jaw dropping and will create awe and laughter from the reader from its scale. The casual dusting of one’s hands after the fact is a neat visual. The actions in and on the train are fantastic. I love the panels that show the protagonist ducking on Page 12 and the dramatic irony of the second panel on 13. The clothes on the fifteenth page are fantastic and I love the final image that ends the page, which is in complete opposition to the characters. The final panel on 16 put me on edge: I HATE those things! The build of tension on 17 is fantastic, with the lead doing something one would expect, yet if this were a film it would elicit screams of “NO! DON’T!” from an audience. Page 18 is a full-paged splash and it’s the first illustration in a comic book that made me jump in months. Seriously, it’s frantic, frightening, and utterly fantastic. I’m standing and applauding Lee for that illustration. But the story’s not done and the freak factor gets cranked up considerably by who is shown next and what this individual does. The actions on 20 and 21 are mesmerizing and horrific. The final panel of the page will have the reader running into their local comic book store to pick up the next installment. Wow. Overall grade: A+

The colors: Adding considerably to the visual’s cool factor are the colors by Michelle Madsen. I love that the Crimson Lotus wears crimson, making even the image of her arm shocking. Notice how Madsen manipulates the tone of the book with her colors with the difference between panels three and four: the shocked monkey’s background is yellow, but once the mask is in place it turns a flat violet, matching the mellowing of the beast’s mood. The reds on the flowers from the peasant woman are sharp. When the action begins on 6 the backgrounds go orange and they look great. They continue in the panels that follow, slowly morphing into yellows outside the cabin’s windows. The interior of a passenger car goes dark, but Madsen keeps the artist’s contributions visible for the reader, leading to a frightfully fun panel on 13. The coloring in the final panel on Page 16 is spooky as hell. I like how the creature’s noises on 17 are given the action oranges of the previous pages. The red letters on 18 are a match for what arrives. The final four pages are drenched in oranges due to the setting being lit by a fire. It makes the proceedings hellish. When an object is shown separated on 20 things go a violent red that’s gore-tastic! Madsen is awesome. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Clem Robins creates sounds, dialogue, an editorial note, and whispered dialogue. The sounds from those monkeys will haunt me and whenever they appeared they foreshadowed supernatural terrors. The editorial note is in small font, but slightly italicized to show the reader they’re not part of the action. The whispered dialogue occurs at several points, primarily for characters to communicate quietly, but there is one occurrence where a character’s voice drops off into silence, signaling something is amiss. Robins is aces. Overall grade: A+

The final line: Sensational spy action paired with supernatural shocks. This is brilliant. The intrigue is thrilling, the action awesome, and the scares are unforgettable. It doesn’t get better than this. Book passage on the Crimson Lotus express! Overall grade: A+

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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