Reviewer: Iain Burnside
Story Title: N/A
Written by: Hans Rodionoff (screenplay), Keith Giffen (adaptation)
Penciled by: Enrique Breccia
Inked by: Enrique Breccia
Colored by: Enrique Breccia
Lettered by: Todd Klein
Editor: Karen Berger
Publisher: DC Comics
Horror comes and horror goes, but the legacy of Howard Phillips Lovecraft endures. Inspired by the seminal works of Edgar Allen Poe, Lovecraft’s tales of the macabre have in turn kindled the creative fires of writers and movie makers for several decades. If you read a review of nearly any worthwhile work of horror then chances are that the term â€˜Lovecraftian’ will crop up at least once. His influence can be seen all over the genre, from early Stephen King novels to Clive Barker’s Cenobite tales via The Evil Dead and practically everything else worth looking at. As John Carpenter admits in his introduction to this book, he himself has used Lovecraft as a muse for movies such as The Fog and In the Mouth of Madness. His influence remains undiluted by time yet he was widely unappreciated by his peers and was forced to sell his stories to seedy pulp publications in order to survive.
The fact that Lovecraft was widely disregarded in his own time is made all the more poignant by the details of his tragic life. His father was institutionalized when he was four years old. His mother, who longed for a girl and used to dress him as one, suffered the same fate when he reached adulthood. His wife became more and more ostracized by his outlandish behaviour and obsessive nature, eventually leaving him. Slowly consumed by his own mythology, he died in poverty in 1937. Yet to listen to Lovecraft tell it in his own words, it would appear that he held no fear of death. In fact, he seemed to cherish it.
â€œPersonally I would not care for immortality in the least. There is nothing better than oblivion, since in oblivion there is no wish unfulfilled. We had it before we were born, yet did not complain. Shall we whine because we know it will return?â€
– H.P. Lovecraft (1921)
Perhaps his reasoning for welcoming his personal â€˜oblivion’ is the same as that which inspired his work, namely evil. After all, that is the one binding denominator capable of striking fear into our hearts. The only thing that changes is where that evil can be found and, truth be told, it can lie anywhere but only be found by the mind. Mary Shelly found fear in the consequences of man becoming God. Bram Stoker found fear in creatures that reveled in the darkness. In a more modern example, M. Night Shyamalan delights in teasing his audience with the fear of the unknown and the exquisite gradual reveal throughout his films. For Lovecraft, the evil was not so much discovered by his mind as it was a part of his mind. Already born into a family tormented by madness, his creative demons unleashed onto him an entire legend of evil, a whole world on another plane from ours that was kept at bay only by the Necronomicon, the book of the dead. At least, that is the premise behind this excellent graphic novel by DC Vertigo.
Taking what is known for fact about H.P. Lovecraft’s life and his work, Rodionoff and Giffen put a fanciful spin on things to mix our factual world with the fictitious one of Lovecraft’s. It is a similar premise to Alan Moore’s adaptation of the Jack the Ripper lore in From Hell, using a factual basis for a horrific story that is unsettling mainly because it seems so natural. This book is the proverbial vivid nightmare, so real and so horribly vibrant that it haunts you for days afterwards. After finding his father’s copy of Al Azif, a book written by the â€œMad Arabâ€, Abdul Al-Hazred, young Lovecraft’s mind is opened to a world that is not his own. He leaves behind his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island for Arkham, home to demons and monsters that will haunt him throughout the rest of his life and yet inspire him to write the tales that are now held in the highest regard throughout the literature world. In many ways their influence is so far-reaching and widespread that they rival even the most famous works of Poe. Sadly, he becomes so embroiled in this fantasy that he starts to view it as a reality. Although his demons are silenced for a period when he first meets his wife, Sonia, there can never be any escape for him. Madness is in his blood, as is writing. The two are sadly not mutually exclusive and he will eventually be forced to succumb to their temptations.
This book is an excellent rendition of Lovecraft’s life. While fans of the author will obviously enjoy seeing Cthulhu come to life on the pages before them, it remains accessible to those who have never read any of his tales. Although Rodionoff and Giffen are obviously fans of his work, this is more than a mere tribute to him. Essentially, this is the story of a man whose imagination and insight into our world is so large it has outgrown ours and entered one all of its own. It is a tragic tale of his downfall, brought on quite literally by his own demons. What shape and form those demons may have actually taken in reality is left up to the reader to decide, but for (hopefully) fictitious purposes they are represented here as being quite literal. Breccia’s renditions of the Shoggoth monster and the various inhabitants of Arkham are breathtaking. From page to page and panel to panel there are dangers unseen and horrors thrown at our faces, creating a fearful tone that perfectly encapsulates that of Lovecraft’s fiction. The painted artwork is beautiful to look at and allows all aspects of Lovecraft to retain their surrealistic nature, morphing easily between the humanistic and the monstrous aspects of his outlook on life.
Simply put, this is a magnificent exploration of one of the greatest writers to have graced our world. Its haunting renditions of the world that Lovecraft explored in his head are represented as worlds he explored in person, making them even more brilliant to behold and putting an entirely new spin on works that are decades old. With glorious art from Breccia and an enthralling story grafted onto factual aspects of Lovecraft’s life, this book should be a must-read for anyone who considers themselves to be a fan of horror. Hell, even anybody who considers themselves a fan of comics should check this one out as it is truly unique both in its appearance and in its subject matter. The quotes on the back of the book alone read like a who’s who of modern-day horror. Clive Barker, Guilermo del Toro, David S. Goyerâ€¦ All masters of the genre who owe a great debt to Lovecraft’s work. The man was the Kurt Cobain of his day, haunted by demons that eventually consumed him yet also made him great. It is a tragic paradox reflected beautifully in this book and I cannot recommend it highly enough.