Chances are you're reading this review because of one of two reasons: 1) you're a loyal fan of Mike Mignola's work or 2) you've read/purchased the previous hard cover edition of Joe Golem and the Drowning City and are toying with the idea of upgrading for Dark Horse's Deluxe Edition HC. As a huge Mignola fan I am slightly biased by his gorgeous art, but I hope to set that aside to provide you with a brutally honest and opinionated review.
First and foremost, the premise behind Joe Golem and the Drowning City is a fascinating one. Set fifty years after torrential earthquakes and a rising sea level have left city of Manhattan submerged under 30 feet of water, fourteen-year-old Molly McHugh finds herself an orphan living in the extremely dangerous Drowning City. As luck would have it, she is rescued from her meager life by an elderly psychic named Felix Orlov, aka Orlov the Conjuror. Never expecting Orlov to be a true psychic, she slowly yet surely realizes her caretaker's powers are indeed real--real enough to attract the wrong kind of attention from the villainous Dr. Cocteau and his gas-mask wearing monster men. But they're not alone. A clock-work detective named Simon Church (a nod and a wink to Sherlock Holmes) and his hulking strongman Joe Golem have secretly kept tabs on Orlov over the years, expecting just such an attack. Joe leaps to Molly's defense and thus begins our pulp adventure. Everything you would hope to expect from a Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden co-authorship.
Now that you're expectations are high, allow me to readjust them accordingly.
Joe Golem and the Drowning City is not just an illustrated novel (that's right, fans of Mignola, this is NOT a graphic novel--please don't be confused), this is one-hundred-percent a Young Adult illustrated novel. Just what does that mean? Well, if you believe The Hunger Games holds literary merit over Lord of the Flies and Battle Royale, than you're going to find this book to be the best damn thing since Frozen Yogurt became known as "Fro Yo." Sentence development, unnecessary ramblings, and shameful amounts of white space (this book could easily be half the size if formatted properly), this book reeks of the tropes found in Young Adult fiction. This is not to say that the book is bad and the writing is poor (co-author Christopher Golden provides some charming visuals unnecessary of any illustrations and his opening sequence is one of the most captivating I've read in years) but only that I was unprepared for the quality of the work.
Fans of Mignola's art and comics like myself might be disappointed too. I've already mentioned that this is NOT a graphic novel (second warning), so what should you come to expect? I counted three illustrations that take up the entirety of a page, the rest are of a marginal size, all of which are in black and white. For the most part Mignola's artwork represents old Germanic woodblock prints, however in Joe Golem there is no action or gusto in these pieces compared to his comic art. They all feel silent and inert, simple and more sketch like than what you might typically consider an "illustration."
Now for what you've all been waiting for--discussing the Deluxe Edition. From what I can tell (keep in mind I read a digital copy) there is absolutely nothing different from the first hard cover addition other than the size, slipcase, limited edition signature plate (this book is limited to 1,000 copies), and the inclusion of the previously unprinted "Joe Golem and the Copper Girl" (which you can still purchase digitally). All of these amendments for nearly fivefold the original price (unless you rush to Amazon where it's currently going for $62.99). Personally, I believe the St. Martin's Press edition published earlier this year is superior solely for the gorgeous art on the dust jacket alone--plus it's already a hardcover! But if you have the money to burn and feel like owning some kind of bragging right, you can fork up the generous wampum for the most expensive and over glorified Young Adult novel I've ever seen in existence.
Overall rating: 3/5