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Literature / Joe Golem And The Drowning City

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"Tell me of real ghosts, a bloodthirsty vampire, children-eating boogeymen, all of that is my area of expertise. Not this vast, incomprehensible cosmic insanity!"
-Simon Church
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Joe Golem and the Drowning City is a book written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, with illustrations from the former. The same partnership produced Baltimore and in many ways Joe Golem is a Lighter and Softer sequel of sorts to Baltimore's tale.

The book concerns the story of Molly McHugh a young Street Urchin who works alongside the aging former Stage Magician Felix Orlov, who currently works as a medium contacting the dead. They live in New York, but a very strange New York indeed: In 1925 earthquakes and tidal waves resulted in half of New York being submerged in water, thus acquiring the nickname "The Drowning City".

However, all of that changes when, after a mediunic session gone wrong, Felix is kidnapped by gas-mask-wearing creatures who seek to use him and the Pentajalum, a mysterious eldritch object, for a nefarious purpose that tresspasses the boundaries of reality itself. The only people who can help her save Felix are the Occult Detective pair Joe, a Gentle Giant with a Mysterious Past who has dreams of being a witch-hunting Golem, and Simon Church, a Quintessential British Gentleman Gentleman Adventurer.

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It is primarily a steampunk lovecraftian pulpy story about sacrifice and the cost of justice.

Movie adaptation rights have been acquired by MGM, but no movie has entered pre-production yet.There is a comic prequel series going on titled Joe Golem Occult Detective.

Tropes contained in this book

  • Alien Geometries: The Pentajulum of Lecter is ostentably some sort of ornate heart, but all the POV characters make note of how its geometry seems to shift constantly, altering in size, shape, color and sometimes even appearing to be two-dimensinal. The Felix-Creature and its father demonstrate similarly incomprehensible features.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The narration stops before it clarifies if Molly chose to go along with Joe or stay at the Drowning City.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Joe's last words in the book allude to this Molly asks "Where are you going?" Joe, having returned to its witch-hunting Golem shape, merely answeres "To hunt witches" and then hops into the Boat and sails away.
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  • Anyone Can Die: And quite a few do. Molly is the only character to come out alive in the strict sense. Church, Felix and Cocteau all die, and Joe's human self dies, only his Golem self soldiers on.
  • Apocalypse How: According to Church, Cocteau's master plan would end not only humanity, but the entirety of our universe and he implies the aftterlife would be destroyed as well. Making this a Multiversal Apocalypse of the finest nature.
  • Artifact of Doom: It is hinted that the Pentajulum of Lecter has some form of sentience and evil will.
  • Audience Surrogate: Molly is an outsider to the world of mad science and the occult, so she fulfills this role, as well as The Watson.
  • Back from the Dead: Joe returns, reborn as a Golem, after being shot several times and drowned. Could count as Came Back Wrong.
  • Badass Baritone: Joe and Cocteau are both described as having deep, imposing voices.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Cocteau wishes to ascend to take his place among the Elder Gods, seeing them as superior to the pitiful humans. The Elder God grants his wish and grabs him as he vanishes through a portal. Sadly for Cocteau, the portal shuts itself while Cocteau is passing, and thus he's gruesomely bisected. So he did join the elder gods, even if only as a corpse.
  • Big Bad: Doctor Cocteau, the occultist mastermind behind everything.
  • Bigger Bad: Andrew Golnik, the occultist, is long dead by the time the story begins, but his actions are what put the events in motion. His experiments are what cause Felix to become a Half-Human Hybrid and indirectly summon the Elder God. The Elder God himself may qualify.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The world is saved and Cocteau is dead, but half of New York has been laid to waste, and with it countless human lives, the heroic Simon Church has died, Molly lost her only family in the form of Felix Orlov, who is no longer a human and has ascended to another plane of reality, Joe has lost his humanity and his memory. The only more comforting part is that Molly may join Joe in further adventures.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: In Eldritch Abomination nature, Cocteau makes note that the elder beings care very little for us and have entirely different paramaters of morality. For that matter, The Elder God who appears in the sky doesn't seem to have any intent to destroy reality, he is doing so as a side-effect. All he wants to do is to be reunited with his son, Felix Orlov, and once the Felix-Creature goes along with him he departs without further hassle.
  • Continuity Nod: Joe at one point mentions a mysterious plague that ravaged Europe in World War One, implying this takes place in the same verse as Baltimore.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: A Lighter and Softer example than most, but oh yes, trandimensional horror is the main subject.
  • Cyborg: Simon Church is a Magitek, steampunk one.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Most of the chapters are from Molly or Joe's perspective, but Felix and Church both get two chapters in which they display their side of the story. They both die in their second POV chapter.
  • A Death in the Limelight: Occurs both times Felix and Church get POV chapters. Felix gets two, and in the second he fully transforms into a Eldritch Abomination, erasing his human self forever, and in Church's (who ikewise has two pov chapters) second POV chapter he finally succumbs to old age and dies.
  • Death by Despair: Church ruminates on how his life semi-magical support system is fueled by willpower, so essentially if he gives into despair, his organs will stop working and he will die. This happens in his second chapter, after Joe dies.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: Simon Church is a deconstruction of the usual Occult Detective Gentleman Adventurer. Church is everything a Occult Detective could wish to be, but his life of evil-hunting resulted in the collateral death of pretty much everyone he loved, leaving him with a massive case of survivor's guilt and depression and it's clear his Gentleman Adventurer demeanor is a facade to hide his Death Seeker desires.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The first chapter is from the perspective of Felix Orlov, and it seems like he'll be the main character, but from the second onwards the majority is from the perspective of Molly, who becomes the main character.
  • Die Laughing: Cocteau dies cackling insanely as he's ascending to meet the Elder Gods. Molly notes that his corpse has a frozen smile of joy.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Cocteau alludes to incomprehensible, elder creatures of vast power who abandoned this plane of reality a long time ago and exist beyond our plane. Felix becomes one, and one of the Elder Beings appears in the climax and almost destroys reality just by being here.
  • Evil Counterpart: Cocteau to Church. They're both charming, intellectual and polite gentlemen who seek to learn and explore the occult, but Church does so to protect mankind while Cocteau is actively trying to destroy humanity so the elder beings can grant him more knowledge.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Golnik in the backstory and Doctor Cocteau in the present day, who mixes the trope with Mad Scientist.
  • Expy: Joe is a burly, melancholic Gentle Giant with a snarking sense of humour and a Mysterious Past. Any similarities to Mignola's Hellboy are certainly not a coincidence.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Cocteau is very polite and charming, Molly even describes him as looking like a kindly grandfather. He's affable enough to make Molly briefly doubt if she's on the rigth side. Nonetheless, suffice to say his end goal is to wipe out all of existence.
  • Golem: Joe has dreams in which he's one. He is one, just one that acquired human form. During the end of the book, he becomes a Golem again.
  • Implacable Man: Joe in his Golem form. Wrestles with two giant snakes, an army of super-strong mutants and massive waves. None of it kills him, at most slows him down.
  • Loss of Identity: Joe slowly loses and forgets his human life as he becomes a Golem, returning to his more emotionless witch-hunting Golem nature.
  • Mad Scientist: Cocteau creates quite a few abominations over the course of the story.
  • Magitek: Cocteau's creatures are a mix of science and magic and so are Church's organic workings.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Doctor Cocteau, the main villain. Amusingly it is never addressed why he carries that title.
  • Obliviously Evil: The Elder God and Creature-Felix wreck almost destroy reality, and end up destroying half of New York and many innocent lives with it, but neither of them does it on purpose. It's merely a side-effect of their existence.
  • Occult Detective: Joe and Church, though they claim they investigate normal affairs as well.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: When Cocteau's plans start failling, he throws many childish tantrums of how he's "earned" his right to succeed. Molly even repeatedly compares him to a bickering child.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Simon Church appears to be at least a century old or older. And Joe has been around since the Middle Ages.
  • Science Fantasy: The story blends steampunk sci-fi and occult magic in equal measure. Simon Church's mechanic implants are specifically referred as a chimera of magic runes, spells and hyper-advanced mechanical science, for example.
  • Supervillain Lair: Cocteau lives in a underwater fortress built from New York's metro tunnels.
  • Title Drop: Of sorts. Joe is always called Joe and just Joe, and in his dreams he refers to himself as "The Golem", never "Joe Golem". Except for The climax in which Molly refers to him as Joe Golem, seeing as he's become one
  • Überwald: Joe's dreams place him as a Golem in Eastern Europe, which feels like this.
  • Underwater Base: See Supervillain Lair.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Cocteau starts collected, calm and charming. But after Molly and Joe throw a monkey wrench into his plans (and Molly shatters his nose with a punch), Cocteau flips his shit and literally frothing with rage and screaming barely coherent threats to everybody.
  • Witch Hunter: Joe's "dreams" as a Golem place him as a witch-hunter in Eastern Europe, and his Golem-self sole purpose seems to be to hunt witches, almost to a obsessive degree. When he returns to his Golem form, he starts hunting witches again. In this case the witches actually are ruthless monsters, so Joe's a sympathetic character;
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