Review by Karl Verhoven
Victorian investigator of the supernatural Sir Edward Grey returns for a fourth outing, with the title hinting that he’ll be running up against zombies this time.
After the joy of The Mysteries of Unland being written by horror novelist Kim Newman, Mike Mignola turns to a new collaborator in Chris Roberson, a pairing that’s stayed the course for the following two Witchfinder graphic novels. Zombies are indeed on the agenda, and the writers toy with our certainty of what’s happening set against Grey’s own scepticism about the inconceivable. “I’ve seen men who don’t look half as hale and hearty as the one down there” is the verdict once Grey and police colleagues begin investigating graves.
If there’s much to recommend City of the Dead it’s because returning artist Ben Stenbeck’s recreation of time and place is fullsome, well researched and with an attractive precision. He works hard to create a darkness with shadows, and this is nicely offset by a grey wash form of colour supplied by Michelle Madsen. Grey works in a murky world, and Stenbeck brings that to life with great detail and some memorable designs.
Rather than let loose a shambling horde of the undead on London in the 1800s, Mignola and Roberson play a longer game, involving prophecies and Grey’s enemies the Heliopic Brotherhood. However, in maintaining the unfamiliarity and surprise of Grey as events unfurl very slowly, there’s a danger of alienating readers all too knowledgeable about what eludes Grey and therefore wanting the pace picked up. That doesn’t actually happen, but the mysteries become a little more intriguing when a new threat is added midway through. All the action one could want is supplied in the final chapter, along with a clever twist to even the odds.
It’s explained that Grey will soon have to face a bigger test with greater stakes, although Mignola and Roberson aren’t foolish enough to tell us what that is. Perhaps they’ll do so in The Gates of Heaven.