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Years ago, two great minds in cryptozoology took different paths. Arcturus Finn only wanted to learn about strange, rare creatures. His old friend Kevin Kaycee wanted to capture them. The men parted ways, but stayed in touch. Now, Arcturus Finn is the director of MI: Omega, a secret branch of the British government that studies creatures that most people don’t believe in. Dr. Kevin Kaycee works in the field, tracking the creatures down. Until he goes on an expedition to Loch Ness and disappears.

Arcturus can’t go after his friend himself, nor can he officially use MI: Omega resources to find him. But he does have an ace up his sleeve: his young ward, Matilda. Matilda Finn can be cautious and skeptical, but she’s devoted to Arcturus, so she takes the job. An unofficial rescue mission is mounted with a boat and a couple of small submarines. Unfortunately, the rescuers aren’t prepared for what stirs in the depths of Loch Ness. Dr. Kaycee has crossed a line, angering a creature that might just be unstoppable.

Unstoppable by ordinary humans, that is. Matilda Finn is far from ordinary. In some ways, she has more in common with the creature of Loch Ness than with her human allies. And soon, she’ll have to decide where her loyalties lie.

This lush graphic novel hearkens back to the classics of pulp adventure and science fiction. Secret societies and unlikely science form the backdrop of a story full of action, drama, and mystery. Despite the presence of pixies, merpeople, and an impressive Loch Ness monster, there’s nothing that’s described as magic: these are all creatures with bizarre, but explainable, biologies. It’s fantastical science fiction in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars trilogy or fantastical adventure in the tradition of Indiana Jones. It has a vibe not unlike that of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but with a modern setting and no sexual violence. And with pixies.

Not that you’d recognize these pixies. The cryptids of this story’s world are more dangerous and unsettling than cute or whimsical. The rich, detailed illustrations bring them to life as vividly as they do the human characters.

While the cover art is crisp, the interior art has a textured look, suggesting real paint rather than (or in addition to) digital coloring. Many scenes occur in semidarkness: tunnels and caverns, or deep below the surface of Loch Ness, or, hey, in tunnels and caverns located deep below the surface of Loch Ness. The colors here are rich and softly blended, evoking torchlight on cave walls or the shifting deep blues of an underwater scene. The characters remain clear and detailed. Not all of the backdrops are so murky: we’re also treated to a bright glimpse of the headquarters of MI: Omega, full of outlandish creatures and artifacts. Matilda’s flashbacks, drawn in grayscale, provide another distinct visual as they offer background on her character. There are also some fun sketches and a note from the book’s creator at the end of the volume.

This story does have a body count. (That’s what happens when you make the Loch Ness monster angry.) Mostly, we see the aftermath of the attacks, not the violence as it’s happening. There’s a little gore, but nothing extreme or grotesque, as monster attacks go.

There’s no sexual content in this story, and no explicit nudity, though some illustrations have a sensual component. For instance, we meet Matilda when a phone call wakes her in the middle of the night. She gets up, wearing a t-shirt and underwear, then showers and dresses, going a full two pages without pants. In flashbacks, she’s frequently topless, her nipples hidden by convenient long hair or other visual devices. It’s worth noting, though, that Matilda spends most of the book in practical clothes, taking practical action. She isn’t just there for fanservice: she’s a complex, brave, and interesting protagonist with hints of a dramatic backstory. (More of which to come in the sequels?)

This classic-feeling adventure will go over well with fans of pulpy supernatural stories. Hand it also to readers with an interest in cryptids—they’ll likely enjoy the explanations of how this book’s creatures work.

Midnight Society, Vol 1: The Black Lake
by Drew Edward Johnson
ISBN: 9781616558253
Dark Horse Books, 2016

  • Nic

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Wake County Public Libraries

    Reviewer

    The child of two artists, Nic grew up loving art, reading, and those oh-so-special books that combine the two. Nic got her MLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her thesis was on the best shelving scheme for graphic novels in public libraries; the proposal won an Elfreda Chatman Research Award. She spends her free time reading, drawing, blogging, and writing fiction. She is a Youth Services Librarian at the Wake County Public Libraries in Raleigh, NC.

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