For the second month in a row, Abe Sapien is mostly absent within the pages of the comic bearing his name. Last month's installment gave us a huge backstory involving Strobl, the necromancer who was willingly enveloped by the Black School, and "Abe Sapien" #31 continues that plot thread by following him into the present day while Mike Mignola, Scott Allie and Sebastian Fiumara lay out clues for the future.
A lot of "Abe Sapien" has teased the character's origin, but "Abe Sapien" #31 delivers some more of the actual goods. We've always known that his purpose was tied into the strange frog-creatures, but here his link to them feels much more explicit than it has in a long time. Considering Abe himself isn't around for more than the last few pages, that's a nice feat to pull off -- and doubly so because we're instead following Strobl, a character who is hardly the most likable of people.
The comic ultimately works because Mignola and Allie take their time plunging us into horrors over and over again. This book sells itself entirely on mood, and in that it succeeds. This is a road map through the fringes of hell, both figuratively and literally, and the duo makes sure their script uses the idea of what will come next as the carrot to lure the reader through its pages. Ultimately, the revelations about Abe are the reward at the end of the trail, and -- while there is almost certainly more to come on that front -- it feels like a victory to learn what we do.
It doesn't hurt that Fiumara's art is as lush, detailed and creepy as ever. I don't say this lightly: few people could draw a cloaked primate with long claws and make it look not only unsettling, but actively dangerous. Sure, he still delivers the gore, and the monstrous flies, and the demonic gators, and all of those are disgusting and skin-crawling, but to take the mundane and make it eerie shows he's a step above. So sure, look at the crumbling bookshelves, the strange green hues from Dave Stewart, or the animated corpse whose skin is bruising and puffing, but know that -- with Fiumara -- the elements that normally would be funny or even just average will be anything but.
"Abe Sapien" #31 could have easily been a bit of a flop with its detour away from its main character, but Mignola, Allie and Fiumara instead present us with a dark and dangerous ride through a realm of evil. It's not something they could get away with every month, but it's positioned at just the right time and place to succeed. Where we go from here? Somewhere bad for Abe Sapien, but good for readers, that's for certain.