Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lost and Gone Forever: The Platypus Reads Part CXLI

This post will be a review of Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever, the second volume in Mike Mignola's Sir Edward Grey series.  If you wish to remain spoiler free, don't read on.

As the name suggests, Lost and Gone Forever brings Sir Edward Grey to the American Wild West on the trail of occult evil.  To briefly summarize the plot, Grey travels to Reidlynne Utah on the trail of Lord Adam Glaren, a British nobleman who has committed an unspecified crime.

Grey's first attempts to locate Glaren are a disaster with the Englishman's failure to understand frontier culture landing him in the stereo-typical bar fight.  The locals then attempt to run him out of town and Grey is only saved by the intervention of the mysterious Morgan Kaler.  What exactly Mr. Kaler does, we never find out, but he seems to be a sort of occult detective himself.  Throughout Lost and Gone Forever, the older Kaler adopts a mentoring role, with Grey slowly learning that he doesn't know as much about the occult as he thinks.

On the way to Kaler's homestead, the two men encounter Kaler's friend, Isaac, a sort of intuitive idio-savant.  Over diner, Grey and Kaler speculate about the strange disaster that destroyed Reidlynne's church.  The apparently magical disappearance of the whole congregation cements Grey certainty that Glaren is in the area but Kaler remains skeptical.

The following day, Kaler takes Grey past the local Indian reservation where he points out a white woman named Eris who Kaler suspects is the real source of the trouble. Eris seems to be using magical powers to gain the support of the Paiute tribe for her strange syncratistic religion.  Passing on, Grey and Kaler are suddenly set upon by a mysterious sniper.  Kaler fires back but apparently fails to wound the sniper leading to a pursuit.  The two detectives track their assailant to his camp where they discover that he is Lord Glaren. When Grey attempts to apprehend Glaren, however, he finds that Glaren has become a zombie.  Kaler devises a way to kill (again) the undead nobleman and blames Eris.  More proof of Eris' involvement comes the next day when the duo are attacked by stone dog.  Only the timely intervention of Isaac saves the two from the magical abomination.  While patching up Isaac, Grey discovers that the idio-savant has a magically prolonged life.  In a gesture of friendship, Isaac passes on the source of his magical invulnerability, a bracelet, to Edward.

That night, Edward has a strange dream that urges him to seek out the Paiute's "sacred mine" for more clues.  Upon setting out the next day, Kaler and Grey fall into an argument about the use of magic in fighting evil that continues themes raised in In The Service of Angels.  When they reach the mine, Kaler and Grey discover the corpses of the missing congregation and are forced to fight them off when they revive as zombies.

Elsewhere, we see Eris lead the Paiute to a man she claims is one of their ancient wisemen, Kaipa.  He welcomes them, but can only speak to one of the old women.  To this old woman Kaipa reveals that Eris has forced his soul back from the Realm of the Dead and is using Christian and Paiute souls to gain magical power.

Moving back to Grey and Kaler, the two heroes exit the mine only to find Eris and an army of zombie cowboys.  Grey is "killed" while Kaler fights on.  Passing into the realm of the dead, Grey finds Kaipa and somehow is able to kill him.  With Kaipa dead, Eris loses her link with the afterlife and is turned into a tree by a vengeful Paiute spirit.  His mission accomplished, Edward says good-bye to Kaler and Isaac and returns to England.  An afternote tells us that while Grey kept his Christian faith, he became much more interested in other beliefs after the Utah incident.

With that summary of events out of the way, we can move on to analyzing the story.  The question that comes to mind is "what is 'lost and gone forever'?"  As an opening attempt we might point to the vanished congregation that serves as the Mcguffin for the plot.  Moving deeper, we might look at the context for the title, the old song "Clementine."  In that case, it is the miner's daughter that is "lost and gone forever."  This could point us back to the dead Christians whose bodies are stuffed into a mine shaft.  It could also remind us of Mary, the clairvoyant from In The Service of Angles, whose death cements Edward's commitment to destroying the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra.  On a more esoteric level, it could be a reference to the loss of Grey's "simple" view of Good and Evil as he gains further knowledge of the occult.  This seems likely as the argument over whether evil should be used to fight evil goes all the way back to Hellboy: Darkness Calls and Hecate's challege to Grey that he will learn to do evil to do good.  It is also the key motif of In The Service of Angles and forms the substance of much of Kaler and Grey's conversation.

If this last point is true, then it may cast Grey's increasing "tolerance" in a sinister light.  Mary (notice the name's symbolic resonance with the apparently Roman Catholic Grey) warns Grey that his continued pursuit of the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra will destroy him.  Given that Grey seems to eventually achieve a deathless state, this destruction should probably be understood as moral or spiritual.  Given what we've said above, it seems as if Grey's quest to destroy the Brotherhood will lead him into increasing compromise with the dark powers until he loses his ability to distinguish Good from Evil.  This seems to match with the Grey we see in Darkness Calls who seems merely interested in hearing Hecate's "story" and learning her "perspective;" a far cry from the Grey who blasts his way into situations with Latin invocations of the Trinity and bits of liturgy.

As a final note, the art by John Severin in this addition is really a treat.  I do miss Mignola's style, but he continues to find excellent partners in creating the visual end of Hellboy's world.  Though I tend to focus on the story aspect of these comics, the art of the Hellboy series deserves every bit as much attention.  Perhaps someone with training in the arts could volunteer?

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