Tuesday, 29 November 2011

‘Neonomicon’ – Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows (Avatar Press)

I’m still working my way through the H.P. Lovecraft collection, slowly but surely, but seem to have come to a bit of a halt right now. Not sure why exactly... At a guess I’d say it’s partly down to a baby who is completely indifferent to the aims of the Elder Gods and whose nappies bring new meaning to the word ‘eldritch’ (possibly ‘squamous’ as well)... I hate to admit it but it’s also down to me reading the book on my own, one night, and being scared rigid when my wife whispered my name from the next room. What? I was reading a reading a really scary story.

I need to get back into the Lovecraft collection (all the more so because it’s quite frankly brilliant in its weirdness) but reading it in the first place has made me all the more aware of the influence that Lovecraft has had on a number of present day writers. It’s definitely there if you look hard enough and it all makes for gripping tales of the darker side of a universe that we only think we know. I want more of this and when Alan Moore’s ‘Neonomicon’ came through the door, the other day, I had a chance to explore the mythos a little bit further; perhaps even use the book as a way of getting back into the original source material that had stumped me first time round.

‘Neonomicon’ has certainly got me interested in picking up the Lovecraft book again; it’s also the most unsettling book I’ve read in a long time...

Just what happened to top FBI agent Aldo Sax while he was investigating a wave of serial killings (and a possible connection to a certain drug)? All anyone knows is that Sax went on to kill a couple of people himself before being locked up in a maximum security facility? He’ll happily talk but it’s in a language that no-one can understand. The killings have begun again and it’s now the job of two younger agents to not only get to the bottom of Sax’ condition but pick up his case from where it went cold. Who is Johnny Carcosa and just what is he peddling? What lurks beneath the waters of Innsmouth and will it ever let Agent Merrill Brears go? What will be left of her if it does...? Cthulhu is stirring from his dreams and R’lyeh is in the last place you would ever expect to look...

After reading ‘Neonomicon’ I can’t believe that there was ever a time when I seriously thought that comics were just about superheroes doing what superheroes do (for the record there was such a time, long ago now). ‘Neonomicon’ is about as far from all that as it’s possible to get. This tale of terror pulls no punches and spares no sensibilities; it’s all the better for this approach and I’d say that ‘Neonomicon’ borders on essential reading for fans of Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos...

My edition (a lovely looking hardback collection) collects ‘The Courtyard’ as well as ‘Neonomicon’ and we get to see just how the mystery unfolds without any inconvenient breaks in between. Maybe we find out a little too much too soon, we’re certainly in on the secret a long time before Lamper and Brears get there and maybe that spoils things a bit. One of the dangers of bringing two separate stories (albeit with a connection between them) into one collection I guess; ‘The Courtyard’ would have had a lot more impact to it if I’d read it on it’s own. The ending to ‘Neonomicon’ more than made up for this though; I don’t want to give too much away but you really feel Sax’ horror as things suddenly become very clear.

Both ‘The Courtyard’ and ‘Neonomicon’ are jammed full of references not only to Lovecraft but also other ‘weird’ writers of the time. You get the feeling that Moore is a bit of a fan and is revelling in the chance to namedrop a little with other likeminded readers. This ‘overflow’ of references was starting to verge on the annoying until I realised that this approach had a greater significance to the plot than was at first apparent. What Moore is actually doing is sowing seeds, very early on, for a mystery that incorporates police procedural themes with a case that no human law enforcement agency could ever be prepared for. As the story unfolds you get a real sense of the confusion, and underlying terror, experienced by the agents as they realise that they are way in over their heads.

As I said before, Moore doesn’t pull any punches when the endgame kicks in and Merrill learns to her cost what she has become involved in. ‘Graphic’ doesn’t begin to cover what’s on these pages but I would say fair play to Moore for letting the story take the path it was best suited for, deeply unsettling as it is. I originally thought that Jacen Burrows’ art would be too ‘clean’ and cartoonish for what is a very dark tale. I was surprised though at how well the art dovetailed with Moore’s plot. Burrows’ style is still clean and straightforward but it also shows the darker side of human nature (just cast your eye over the nightclub crowd...) as well as the full weirdness of Cthulhu and his cohorts.

The ending is not only a real punch to the gut but also somehow manages to tell an extra four or five pages of story that you will only see in your minds eye. I can’t stop thinking about that ending and what it means...
It may not be by Lovecraft himself but ‘Neonomicon’ can sit proudly amongst the rest of the mythos that sprang from Lovecraft’s writing. It’s a deeply unnerving read that grips you while it puts the fear of the Elder Gods up you...

Nine out of Ten


Anonymous said...

Though I enjoyed The Courtyard, I found the Neonomicon to be below the standard I expect from Mr Moore.

Though I understand that the story attempts to evoke Lovecraft's own sense of revulsion, it misses the mark by miles and goes for the gross out as well.

I also groaned out loud Johnny Carcosa's punning, and not in good way, especially as it ruined the build up of tension.

Graeme Flory said...

It looks like I missed out on a whole load of puns... I really need to finish 'Call of Cthulhu'.
I thought the whole sense of revulsion thing was nailed dead on but that's just me :o)
What was going on with that dome we kept seeing though? I didn't get that.

Ryan said...

I'll also say that Neonomicon was the most unsettling thing I've read in a long time.

I was reading this in single issues, and barely made it through the third issue before becoming so disturbed by the content. I stopped reading, thinking I'd never finish the story. Then, a few months later, found myself curious as to how it all ended, and went to the comic shop and picked up the final issue.

I think my psyche is still in rehab.

Not sure what the dome was all about. I just figured it was some part of the Lovecraftian mythos that I was unaware of.