Abe’s ongoing series hasn’t been the brightest spot in the Mignolaverse, creatively speaking. Actually, let’s not mince words: For the majority of its run, “Abe Sapien” has embodied some of the worst characteristics you can find in Mike Mignola’s writing. There have been plenty of vaguely cryptic hints about the title character’s role in the end of the world, low-energy stories that can’t generate excitement even when the monster-punching starts, lots of characters speaking in cthonic-sounding tongues, and a desire to treat this story with a seriousness that it doesn’t earn. John Arcudi’s knack for strong characterization and witty, self-deflating dialogue has effectively blunted these tendencies over in “B.P.R.D.” over the years, but “Abe” co-writer Scott Allie has failed to have a similar effect here. Also, the artistic duo of the Fiumara brothers has been decidedly uneven, both can do monsters and supernatural menaces very well, but Max’s humans have a tendency to wind up looking creepier that his creatures. Sebastian’s efforts have been uniformly good throughout the series, though the less said about his efforts to emulate early Mignola in this volume the better.
“The Secret Fire” does at least one thing right: We’re finally told why Abe is so important to the ongoing apocalypse and his role in the next age of man. It’s a relief to have this payoff if nothing else. The problem with it is that Abe, and the reader, find this out through a lengthy explanation as a mother translates for her daughter speaking in those aforementioned cthonic tongues. It effectively amounts to one long scene where we’re told why the character is important to the plot without any appreciable demonstration of it. Granted, it’s implied that Abe’s importance will manifest itself after the end of the world which makes it kind of hard to show off. This is a “Mignolaverse” book, however, and letting something like the ongoing apocalypse get in the way of the story being told shouldn’t be such an obvious dealbreaker.
There has been one consistently good thing about this series: The ongoing quest of Gustav Strobl. He’s been trying to secure the best place for himself in the new world, and he finally figures out how to do that in this volume. What makes his journey so interesting is that in contrast to all other antagonists in the Mignolaverse, and nearly all other bad guys I’ve read about in fiction, it’s pitched overtly towards his self-destruction. Strobl has knowledge, but he wields it in a reckless manner while his arrogance keeps him from noticing all of the literal and metaphorical warnings to turn back and save himself here. This time, it just costs him his nose. It’s obvious that Strobl will wind up being just clever enough to get himself killed in some unspeakably horrible manner and then tortured for the rest of his existence in Hell. That makes me feel just the tiniest bit of sympathy for the man, and a genuine desire to see how it all works out for him in the next (final?) volume.