Friday, September 11, 2009

Book Review: The Satan Factory by Tom Sniegoski

51qYf7OE8bLLET ME MAKE IT CLEAR that I am a huge HUGE fan of writer R.E. Howard (1906-1936), and I have a deep fascination with all the pulp fiction of the '20s-'50s Weird Tales variety. This includes the works of Ashton-Smith, Leiber, Bradbury, C.L. Moore (Lovecraft not so much).

That said, regarding Tom Sniegoski's work on Lobster Johnson: The Satan Factory, I have to say "wow!" Allow me to repeat: "WOW!" Mr. Sniegoski had me hooked from the get-go, opening up right away with a doctor by the name of Chapel who's on the lamb, hiding out in a Mexican cantina from his erstwhile mobster boss employer, drinking away his doldrums when suddenly the chase begins when some mob goons track Chapel down. It doesn't stop until page 203, which is the last page of this book's epilogue. Non-stop action, weird creatures, hard-knuckled fistacuffs, blazing .45's and Tommy guns, weird creatures, cloaks and goggles, chase scenes (on foot and in cars and trucks), and did I mention weird creatures (Sniegoski even uses the word "grotesquery," which happens to be a favorite of mine)?

Lobster Johnson himself -- a creation by legendary comic book auteur Mike Mignola (Hellboy) -- is a man of legend himself, a mysterious crime fighter hell-bent on stamping out evil in all its forms. The story focuses mainly on a member of his team of secret agents, an ex-cop by the name of Jake Hurley, who has wallowed in his own misery far too long and has been given a chance by the Lobster for redemption. Hurley moves through the underbelly of NYC, keeping his eyes and ears open for the Lobster. And boy-oh-boy does he uncover the real action.

Now, I will admit, technically, this book is more of a 4.5 than a true 5 for me, but I'm feeling generous so I'm rounding up. The only place the story really falls short, for me, is that there's no real explanation for who the Lobster is, or at least why he is the way he is. I realize he's been in a few comics in Mignola's Hellboy/B.P.R.D. universe, but not having read those I would have liked to have known more about the inscrutable Lobster, and I think a few pages dedicated to this wouldn't have been wasted on the uninitiated reader. So, in a way, he's one tough hombre, but a rather flat character in comparison to Hurley, mob bosses Fazzina and Red O'Neill, the main bad guy who I won't name (no spoilers here), or even the malformed little Mexican boy, Paco. In this story the Lobster is kinda like Batman without the angst.

That having been said (well... written actually), Sniegoski's Lobster Johnson: The Satan Factory, perfectly apes the “Weird Tales” pulp era. This is a ripping good yarn that Howard himself would have loved. And that's about the highest praise I can give it. So 4.5 out of 5 stars. A great read and highly recommended!

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Addendum 09/12/09: Mr. Sniegoski actually wrote to thank me for the review and I asked permission to reprint part of his e-mail. Here it is:

“. . . in regard to your one complaint about not knowing the Lobster's backstory . . . he doesn't have one. Mike [Mignola] hasn't come up with it yet, and wants to be the one who tells it so basically I had to keep him completely mysterious . . . a force of nature so to speak. . .

“. . . It's no secret that Mike wants to keep the Lobster a mystery until he's ready to reveal more. . .

“. . . thanks so much for your kind words, and look forward to hearing what you have to say about some of my other stuff.”

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