After this year, I would read any series from artist, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, but Mr. Higgins Comes Home has felt tailor-made from the day it was announced. Horror and Hellboy scribe and artist, Mike Mignola, takes point on writing while Johnson-Cadwell puts his talents to the task of drawing vampires. It’s a graphic novel that has everything to recommend it, in terms of talent and creatures, yet my hands feel tied against saying much more about it.
As a comic reviewer you’re not supposed to spoil the ending, and it’s completely understandable why. What makes this somewhat inhibiting in Mr. Higgins‘ case is the ending is essential. It’s not just that it’s a strong ending (other books can claim that, too) but that it’s meant to be read as a whole. There’s a reason it’s a graphic novel, not broken into issues, and the ending truly completes the story.
Here’s what I can spill: Count Golga is having guests over to his castle for Walpurgis. A festival centered around the Devil, vampires are gathering on the spot for the occasion and Professor J. T. Meinhardt wants to seize the day to kill them. What does Mr. Higgins have to do with any of this? It’s his name that graces the cover, with a stake where the ‘i’ should be, but Mr. Higgins lets you overlook his character before explaining his importance.
Mr. Higgins Comes Home immediately feels different from Johnson-Cadwell’s collaborations with writer, Fabian Rangel Jr. (Helena Crash and Samurai Jack: Quantum Jack). There are moments of action in Higgins, but not as constantly. Since Count Golga lives in a castle, there are immense stone rooms and trees outside. Settings are less busy, so that size and depth can be presented most. The carriages curve around cliff paths and the Gothic heights are grandiose.
Excuses for detail are found. Walls of paintings and mounted heads make for an eclectic collection, and the carvings on the coffins and the backboards of the bed go into a lot of detail for keeping their natural, wood color.
What Johnson-Cadwell’s projects have in common are his clever character designs. He’s able to illustrate vampires that look completely different, yet have similar body types, and gangly, clawed hands and broad shoulders become common of the species. Count Golga’s affluence is sold with a bouffant hair cut and heavy robes, and the cotton candy coloring of the first vamp we meet makes his red eyes pop. Where so many stories have gotten rid of the vampires-turn into-bats schtick, Mr. Higgins keeps the myth alive, and a throwaway reveal shows Meinhardt uses a hammer to nail his stakes in.
As for the ending? It’s like Mr. Higgins takes every grand idea you’ve built about the genre and proceeds to take the wind out of their sails. It’s the anti-epic vampire send-off, mesmerizing for how undercutting Mike Mignola can be. There’s a sound effect that letterer, Clem Robins, uses, “Foom,” that sums it up perfectly. You’d be a “foom” not to see Mr. Higgins through.
Mr. Higgins Comes Home is available now from Dark Horse Comics in comic shops, but arrives in bookstores on Halloween, October 31st, 2017.