The story opens in the 1960s, where Arcturus Finn and Kevin Kaycee, characters who hover in the realm of classic pulp with a dash of superheroics, hunt pixies together – at least until they have a critical disagreement. Decades later, in the modern day, Finn runs a secret organization – MI: Omega – that deals with the strange and secret things in the world, the myths, the monsters. When Kaycee’s expedition to Loch Ness goes missing, Finn calls upon the help of one of his agents, Matilda, whose purpose on the mission goes beyond simply her being a Nessie expert, to rescue anyone who might have survived.
The result is a dark, fantastic tale in the pulp tradition. Johnson litters his storytelling with bits that suggest his much larger world: the creatures that MI: Omega has dealt with; the gear they have developed; the agents they employ; many of whom have strange powers and mysterious pasts. Matilda herself is perhaps the biggest mystery of the story. The result is that The Black Lake feels like a pilot episode, one whose plot is fairly by the numbers to allow for copious introductory exposition, but with enough hooks on which to hang the development of the world and its characters in future stories. By the end, I cared less about how the incident at Loch Ness resolved than I did about getting answers to some of the larger questions it posed. Johnson clearly has more stories to tell with these characters, and The Black Lake does enough to make me want to read those.
Though Johnson handles writing duties with The Black Lake, his career has primarily been as an artist, and it shows in the composition of his pages and the inventive, not-quite-what-you’d-expect designs of his creatures. There is a gliding sense of motion to the story’s many aquatic scenes, and when Johnson introduces the unique locales of his world – like the cleverly hidden MI: Omega headquarters – the art truly shines, suggesting, as the story does, this broader universe.
Taken on its own, Midnight Society: The Black Lake is not without its flaws. It spends a lot of time on somewhat procedural elements of its story, and there is a great deal of exposition about the world and its characters. Many of the seeds it sows won’t bloom until future Midnight Society stories, which can leave readers with a sense of incompleteness. But, if Johnson has the opportunity to continue the story of these characters, The Black Lake is a solid start. For fans of pulp, monster hunting, cryptozoology, and secret societies, this is definitely one to watch.