In Review: Witchfinder: The Gates of Heaven #1

A mystery with supernatural overtones begins that slowly spirals into something much more massive.

The cover: Sir Edward Grey seems to be looking at the reader, as if he or she were guilty of something supernatural. To his immediate right one can see Major Karam Singh and Professor Llewllyn Pritchard. Over the title character’s left shoulder, looking at something in the distance, is Her Majesty Queen Victoria. To her left is a child who looks at Her Majesty with disgust. All these characters, save the child, appear in this issue, so future issues will have to reveal this small character’s identity. Oh, and here are two yellow hands seemingly emerging from Grey’s upper chest. He seems unaware of the limbs’ appearance. This cover is by interior artist D’Israeli. This is a different look for any of the Mignolaverse books, with the characters being smoother in their faces and more bulky in their stature. I’ve always found that the artists chosen for this line of books are good, so I’m anxious to see what the interiors look like. Overall grade: B

The story: Opening at the Tower of London in October of 1884, two Beefeaters hear a sound coming from behind a door they are guarding. Opening it, one of the guards sees a bright light emanating from someone holding a plate sized disc. As soon as he sees this figure it disappears. When asked by his peer what he saw, he responds it was a ghost. The next morning Grey has come to examine the scene and has learned from the men that an object is gone. “We’re missing an item listed in the registry as ‘Pentacle disc, gold, of unknown provenance.’ The entry is dated 1879, and cross-referenced to something called ‘The Amalfi Affair’?” Grey remembers the origin of this item. “Ah, yes, that business with the Italian opera singer and the witch’s curse. I confiscated the pentacle form the witch’s effects after she drowned in the Thames.” He realizes that if one occult artifact can be stolen, then others might be taken. Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson’s tale opens with this theft of a supernatural object, thrusting the reader into the hidden world of this character. A brief respite occurs showing Grey at home writing in his journals when his butler brings him the morning Times. Within it he finds a headline that has him venturing to a famous British structure where a murder has occurred. There he encounters three characters who are on the same mission as he, though going about it in different ways. One character’s last name will be very familiar to long time readers of Mignola’s books. Another object is brought to the hero’s attention, though, like the first, he cannot find a reason for their taking. Next, he goes to see the body of the dead man, who has died from very unique wounds. He’s summoned to see another character who is often mentioned but not seen in Grey’s tales. This conversation is restrained, as one would expect, but it does move the witchfinder into a new direction. The final location is a jaw-dropper: I’ve not seen anything like this in a Grey story. The characters there foreshadow something sinister. I’m fully on board to see where Mignola and Roberson will take Grey. Overall grade: A

The art: D’Israeli’s art took a while for me to get used to. He can definitely lay out a page with the first being a solid introduction to this tale: an excellent long shot looking down at the guards before a door. The point of view changes in the second panel to be looking up at the men when the noise sounds and then looking down upon them as they unlock the door. The fourth panel on the page has a very stylized shadow and light effect done on the Beefeater’s face that looks within the room. This shading effect is done another character later in the book. The bugged out eyes on the man in the final panel perfectly communicates the horror he sees before the reader is able to view it. The two settings that Grey enters filled with unexplained relics are fantastic. There are tremendous details on every shelf, each seemingly capable of having a story devoted to them. The first close-up of Grey is at the bottom of 3 and he’s shown pointing with determination at something with Patrick Stewart’s staging. When he realizes that something will probably be stolen in the future the look on his face is less harsh and more in resolution that something must be done. A nicely done change by D’Israeli. The trio that Grey meets in the second collection is visually an eclectic group, as is the individual that is interviewed. The reveal of the corpse will elicit gasps from readers: 1, for seeing a dead body and 2, for what’s been done to this poor fellow. The person that Grey next meets is very stylized, especially on Page 15, with the shadow work very strong on this character. It definitely creates a sinister tone, but the visual was taking away from what the text had to tell me. There’s a trio of flashbacks shown on 16 and they look fantastic: brief visits to former frightening adventures. The reveal that spreads across 20 and 21 is spectacular. These items shouldn’t exist and their appearances are startling. The trio of characters introduced on this page tease future storylines, as does the individual on the final page. I liked the visuals, but was occasionally taken out of the tale by certain panels. Overall grade: B+

The colors: Michelle Madsen, who has done some awesome work on several of Dark Horse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer books, is the colorist for this issue and she does some slick work in setting this book in its time period. One doesn’t often think of bright colors for the Victorian era in England and Madsen keeps things dark. The interiors of the Tower are very brown, the perfect color for wood and stone lit by candlelight. The light blue for the ghostly theft on Page 2 is not overpowering, but pale enough to give it an eerie flavor. Even when the sun is out, when exteriors are shown, they are often in dim colors, like taupe for stonework or a faded mustard for the sky. When something is in the shadows, Madsen colors the lines in a lighter brown — almost a faded gray — to have them visible for the reader but obviously in the dark. Very cool way to keep the visuals mysterious. Overall grade: A

The letters: This issue’s text is comprised of scene settings, sounds, dialogue, and a closing proclamation. Clem Robins’s work is always easy to read and when he gets to interject a sound it is always strong. They have to be strong, such as on the first page, to alert the reader that something abnormal is occurring. The closing words are done in a bold font to give the character’s final lines a righteousness that will obviously be his comeuppance before this series concludes. Overall grade: A

The final line: A mystery with supernatural overtones begins that slowly spirals into something much more massive. One of the joys of a Grey tale is not knowing where the story is going and this is one of this book’s strengths. I love stories that start small and then grow into something massive and this, too, is a strength. The art grew on me, eventually, though it did pull me out of the reading experience occasionally. This looks to be the start of something wonderful. 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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