So this is it? After five volumes of Abe’s ongoing series that, while it certainly had its moments, was mostly a dull slog more than anything else this is the ending we get!? While the series certainly has significant relevance to the Mignolaverse, it’s easily the runt of the litter quality-wise when compared to the likes of “Hellboy,” “B.P.R.D.,” and most of the spin-off miniseries. Mignola certainly deserves some of the blame for this, though I’d say that the lion’s share of it can be laid at the feet of series co-writer Scott Allie.
That’s because throughout his work, even at its darkest, Mignola never forgot how weird or fun this universe he created was and you could see that in his writing. His most frequent and reliable co-writer, John Arcudi, arguably helped him improve on that while new co-writer Chris Roberson looks to keep things ticking along in fine form. Allie looks to favor more a more low-key approach where the action and humor are both muted. That wouldn’t be a problem if the stories or characters were interesting, but save for “The Merry Adventures of Gustav Strobl and his Undead Friends” that hasn’t been the case.
In fact my biggest issue with this volume is how Strobl’s story is resolved. He’s been the most consistently interesting and entertaining part of this series, being a satanist sorcerer who has been trying to find out Abe’s purpose and to usurp the power the former B.P.R.D. agent wields for his own ends. Strobl’s efforts in this regard… have not gone according to plan as his scarred, noseless visage in this volume will attest to. The interesting thing about how his arc has gone is that it has made it clear to me that he is not meant to handle the power he seeks to have. Strobl has unknowingly been pursuing his own destruction and I was really looking forward to seeing that play out in this final volume.
That’s kind of what we get by the end of “The Desolate Shore.” Strobl does achieve his own destruction, but in a very mundane and unsurprising way. In fact, his fate winds up having a lot more in common with superhero comic conventions than what we’re used to seeing in the Mignolaverse. Mignola and co. have liked to distance the stories they write from their tights-wearing medium companions at Marvel and DC by talking about how the stories they write have actual progress and consequences. This is true. The thing is that when you have a story where the main bad guy turns into the “dark” version of the protagonist and they settle their differences through punching it’s hard not to feel just a little bit disappointed.
While I’m on the subject, that’s not the only big way in which this volume misfires. Though this collects the final issues of Abe’s ongoing series, it lacks a proper end. Sure, Strobl is dealt with but while the final page may have “The End” written near the bottom, it should actually have read “To Be Continued in vol. 15 ‘B.D.P.R.D: Hell on Earth.’” It’ll be good to see Abe re-connect with his former comrades, even if it does result in a bunch of angry yelling at first. Yet there’s no actual sense of closure to the story being told here. I’m actually a little worried now about how Mignola and Arcudi are going to be able to tie up all of the loose ends in “B.P.R.D.” as well as Abe’s story in the five issues collected in vol. 15. Then again, Mignola provided a satisfying wrap up to the saga of “Hellboy” in the same amount of space with the second volume of “Hellboy in Hell” so I’ll try to put these concerns out of my head for now.
“The Desolate Shore” isn’t without its redeeming features. There’s lots of interesting callbacks and tie-ins to previous stories in Abe’s series as well as other Mignolaverse titles. We get to find out what happened to Grace (the woman he saved from the crazy man in the title’s best issue), St. Sebastien from “The Drowning” plays a plot-critical role here, Alice and the Garden Hellboy helped create put in an appearance, and in a really deep dive it’s revealed that Professor Bruttenholm’s hypnotherapy sessions with Abe eventually led him to the Cavendish expedition from “Hellboy: Seed of Destruction.” Yes, that’s a lot of continuity to take in and you’ll have to have read all of the previous volumes as well as a good chunk of other Mignolaverse series to get the most out of it. Which you’ve probably already done if you’re thinking about picking up this volume.
I also have to concede that the art of Max Fiumara has grown on me somewhat over the course of this series. While his work initially came off as awkwardly creepy to me, he has improved to the point where the awkwardness is pretty much gone at this point. Max is still the lesser of the two brothers working on “Abe Sapien.” Sebastian Fiumara has done strong work from the very beginning and he shows further evidence of his skill whether it’s in something as mundane as the fisticuff-centric finale, or more imaginative like the struggle of two Hyperborean priests against demon-worshipping cultists.
Despite its problems, “The Desolate Shore’s” relevance to the Mignolaverse does make it a relatively necessary purchase for people who have been following it all these years. It fills in little gaps and sets up a future story with quality art even though it fails to deliver a satisfying resolution to either of its main plot threads. I’ve made worse purchases out of a similar kind of obligation, to be sure. It’s worth saying at this point that the reason I keep buying titles in the Mignolaverse is that their usual quality is generally a lot higher than what was delivered here.