Alan MooreJacen BurrowsH.P. Lovecraft
Providence
Medium: comic
Year: 2015
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Jacen Burrows
Based on the work of: H.P. Lovecraft
Format: 12-issue limited series
Website category: Comics
Review date: 20 January 2022
Goodness me. That was huge. It took me all week to read, with the many, many text pages (often handwritten) and the sheer density of the thing. It's Alan Moore's big Lovecraft something, following on from The Courtyard and especially Neonomicon (both of which you'd want to have read before starting this).
I don't think I'd really call it a story. I'd call it twelve pieces, linked by a "go and talk to famous people from literature" non-protagonist, much as Moore was doing in much of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It does something different in the last two episodes, yes, and it would be crippled as a reading experience without a sense that all that semi-buried horror must be building up to something... but even so it struck me as practically a non-narrative piece. It's more like a linked anthology.
I'm fine with that, though. It's horror. Pretty much anything goes in that genre.
It's combining Lovecraft's stories with real American history of the time, including that of Lovecraft himself and other writers of weird stuff. It's digging into all the subtext of his stories, so for instance its non-protagonist is a gay Jewish writer. (He mostly avoids having horrible things happen to him, but there's a very, very big exception to that. Alan Moore has scary ideas.) And, of course, it's full of homages to and reinvention of the original stories. You could read this without knowing Lovecraft, I suppose, but you'd be missing pretty much the whole point of the book. Knowledge of The Shadow Over Innsmouth makes it a delight to watch how subtly and gradually Moore and Burrows make the Deep Ones' faces less and less human. (That bus, brrrr.) Similarly, the Herbert West references are relatively understated and pretty much assume you remember the original story.
Names tend to be slightly different, incidentally, so you won't spot all the references immediately. This isn't copyright-dodging as in Century, but instead has a story reason.
Then there's the art. Burrows draws a careful, realistic, dispassionate line that gives the work almost a documentary feel, while the standard layout here is four horizontal panels per page. It's widescreen cinema in comics. It's making Burrows draw more than just what's at the centre of the panel and it's forcing you to be more aware than usual of the setting and surroundings. That's practically the starting point of horror. Throughout, the control of mood is superb. This series doesn't tend to frighten you directly, but it'll often be as creepy as hell.
Randolph Carter's here. I was surprised since I've always thought his books were the boring bit of Lovecraft, but on reflection it would have been wrong to omit him.
Thinking about it, hasn't Moore been playing with other people's toys and/or real-world history for much of his career? There are exceptions to that, of course, e.g. much of his early UK comics work for 2000 AD and Warrior. Since then, though, he's written DC superheroes, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, H.P. Lovecraft and more. He doesn't just do pastiche, though. He looks at things afresh and reimagines them. The Cthulhu Mythos has been a shared universe for nearly 100 years and has had contributions from some superb writers, but I'm pretty sure no one's ever created anything like this before. Moore called this his most heavily researched work since From Hell and I almost want to reread this book just to study how the historical setting is used to counterpoint the Lovecraftian elements.
Is it fun? Definitely not. Does it work primarily as a narrative? Not really. Is it scary? I don't know if I'd even say "yes" to that, although it can be massively sinister. It is, though, fascinating and sort of mesmerising.