Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #125 by Drew Barth


What do we think of when we think of Hellboy? I mean besides Ron Perlman. For the most part, we’re thinking of hellish denizens, ghouls, creatures, and the humanity inherent in most of them. But a series that has been going on for decades and has a world as expansive as Hellboywill inevitably have some spin-offs. And spin-offs are a peculiar thing as they do need to link back to their main series in some way, but not so much that the average reader will find it impenetrable. It is at this intersection of established canon and accessibility that we find The House of Lost Horizons: A Sarah Jewel Mystery by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson, Leila del Duca, and Michelle Madsen.

As this is the first issue of a mystery series that follows along in the Agatha Christie tradition, a few things must happen. The setting must be established as both precarious and isolated. We start at a mansion on a deserted island in the middle of a storm that has cut off all communication. Next, we have to be introduced to the detective whose reputation precedes them: enter Sarah Jewell and her companion, Marie-Therese, on the last boat to come to the island. Next, the murder. It happened before the sleuths arrive, but just long enough before for some of the tension to diffuse in the mansion. And then, of course, the murder itself. A lawyer at the mansion, Severin, in to appraise and auction the various ancient and occult items being held in the mansion. Then the cast of characters—the lot of odds and ends that are equally innocent and guilty. At least, until another body shows up.

Somehow, even after years and years of reading comics, I have never once picked up a volume of Hellboy. And yet Mignola, Roberson, del Duca, and Madsen make sure that doesn’t really matter in this story. Even if we’re only at the first issue, there may be some small connective tissue linking Sarah Jewell and the other characters in this murder mystery back to the Hellboy world at large, that isn’t the focus here. The focus is on the Christie-esque locked-door murder mystery that unfolds slowly in this deserted mansion. And I’m in. I’m immediately drawn into a mystery like this despite the fact that I have no idea what links could exist back to Hellboy. As the story is, it can stand completely on its own.

A story with legs enough of its own to stand on is the mark of a great spin-off series. And it’s the kind of thing that any longer running series really needs to get more readers interested in the world these characters come from. If a series is going to spin off, it really needs to spin into something else entirely. Different genres give the world a chance to breathe more and complete itself. Not everything has to be about fighting back hell. Sometimes it can just be a dead man in a locked room.

Get excited. Get solving.

Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.