Archive for H.P. Lovecraft

The Trafficking in Black Lives

I had some other stuff thought up to review today. And in fact, I’d planned on reviewing this particular book a bit closer to Halloween. But when the time’s right, the time’s right. So we’re going to look at The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle.

This is a novella written just four years ago, and it’s basically a rewrite of H.P. Lovecraft’s notoriously racist short story “The Horror at Red Hook.” And that means, before we get to LaValle’s book, we’re going to need to talk about Lovecraft, his books, and his legacy first.

It’s the 21st century, and after decades of critical neglect, Lovecraft has become accepted in the last few years as one of the most influential horror and fantasy writers in history. The mainstream critics are a long way behind horror fans, who have been fanatically loyal to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos almost from the moment HPL died.

Lovecraft’s extensive correspondence with other writers, including Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, and dozens of others, influenced the development of horror fiction in the first half of the 20th century, and the popularity of the Lovecraft Circle has influenced fans and creators ever since. You will be hard pressed to locate a horror writer who hasn’t been inspired by Lovecraft’s stories — and who hasn’t written his or her own pastiche of his works.

But Lovecraft had some very significant problems of his own that hinder attempts to spread his fandom more broadly — namely, that he was a racist. And not in that “Oh, everyone was racist back then” sort of way that you can kinda ignore. He was a full-on racist, at a level that even his friends thought was much too extreme.

And this wasn’t racism that he kept private — he was very public about his racism, and it showed up prominently in several of his stories. He’d probably always been a bit racist — you might expect it from a sheltered, slightly snobbish man from New England who idolized an archaic British society he hadn’t even been born into.

But that changed in 1924, when Lovecraft got married and moved from Providence, Rhode Island to New York City. He was not very successful at finding work, at least partly because he had a bad attitude about job-hunting and seems to have believed that he was entitled to good jobs, just because he was an educated, quasi-aristocratic white man. But his wife had a successful hat shop and was able to pay all the bills.

But when the shop failed, and she moved out of the city for a job, Lovecraft continued to be unsuccessful at job-hunting. He had very few marketable job skills, and he really felt that as an intellectual and “aged antiquarian” (he was just 34 years old at the time), most jobs were beneath him.

Pictured: Racist Motherfucker

So he had no money and no job, and he lived in the racially mixed Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn among black people, Puerto Ricans, Italians, Irish, Polish people — none of them the noble English aristocracy he aspired to be, and all of them managing life better than he was.

So his low-level racism, fueled by his fear of poverty and his resentment of not living his preferred lifestyle, blossomed into high-level racism and bigotry — not merely against African-Americans but against white people he didn’t feel were pure enough.

The direct result of this period of Lovecraft’s life was “The Horror at Red Hook,” which was published in Weird Tales in 1927. This may be the most disliked Lovecraft story — it’s a poorly written story, and even Lovecraft was dismissive of its quality — and the level of xenophobia is absolutely noxious.

Lovecraft’s racism showed itself in other ways, too — the protagonist’s cat in “The Rats in the Walls” is named after a racial epithet, and one chapter of the multi-part “Herbert West, Re-Animator” is devoted to a monstrously racist depiction of a black boxer.

Most significantly, Lovecraft’s racial attitudes became a major theme of his fiction — the fear of horrific sub-humans interbreeding with pure human stock can be seen in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” “Arthur Jermyn,” “The Dunwich Horror,” and others.

Ultimately, that may be what makes Lovecraft’s horror tales so powerful. He managed to take his own fears — unfounded though they may have been — and used them to create fiction that has influenced generations of creators and fans.

Nevertheless, even though many fans enjoy Lovecraft’s work — including a not-insignificant percentage of people of color — the depths of Lovecraft’s racism have become more difficult for people to stomach, particularly in a time of increasing diversity. More writers and fans are talking about how to address the fact that the most influential horror writer since Poe has stories you’d be ashamed to show your non-white friends.

And now — finally — we return to LaValle’s novella.

LaValle is an African-American writer who loves Lovecraft’s stories, even knowing that HPL was a racist. In fact, he dedicated the book “To H.P. Lovecraft, with all my conflicted feelings.” As he says in an interview with Dirge Magazine:

He feared non-white people. He feared poor white people. He feared women. He damn sure feared New York City. And yet, to his credit, he actually transferred that sense of horror to the page. He couldn’t filter it out and that’s one of the things that made him great. If I lost that I’d lose the thing that makes him a singular artist.

So rather than completely reject Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos, LaValle decided to subvert it.

And so in LaValle’s book, we meet Charles Thomas Tester, 20-year-old black man living with his slowly-dying father Otis in an apartment on 144th Street in New York City. Otis is a fantastic musician, but Tommy is really pretty bad. He knows only a few songs on the guitar, and his singing voice is not at all good.

Still, Tommy roams the city wearing a nice but carefully threadbare suit and carrying a guitar case, because black musicians on their way to gigs get less harassment in white parts of town. The guitar case is empty so he can carry illicit merchandise inside — Tommy is a smuggler of unusual artifacts, and he’s been hired to obtain and deliver a small book called The Supreme Alphabet to a rich white woman in Queens called Ma Att. She pays him well for the book, but doesn’t realize that he’s secretly removed the last page of the book to keep her from causing too much magical mischief.

Soon enough, Tommy is on the radar of a wealthy, occult-loving man named Robert Suydam, who invites him to play music at a party he’s giving at his home. Immediately afterwards, he gets acquainted with a corrupt private detective called Mr. Howard and a weak-willed, occult-loving police detective named Thomas Malone, who are tailing Suydam. Otis fears for his son’s life — it’s not smart for a young black man to be seen in certain neighborhoods after dark — but the lure of easy money is too much for Tommy to resist.

He meets Suydam once in his home prior to the gathering and learns some of his host’s occult powers — Suydam shows him visions of the Sleeping King under the sea, which is more than enough to convince Tommy to skip the party the next night.

But when he gets home, he learns that Mr. Howard killed his father while trying to find the last page of the Supreme Alphabet for Ma Att. Alone in a racist society that considers him barely above an animal, Tommy sees no better solution than to return to Suydam and his gospel of overthrowing the world to benefit the downtrodden. But when he learns that Suydam’s guests are the criminal dregs of the world, he realizes that the problem is not a hateful, racist political regime — the problem is mankind itself. And Charles Thomas Tester makes a dangerous, fateful choice.

Days later, Robert Suydam has an army of followers, a new headquarters in Red Hook, and a new lieutenant — Black Tom, a grim black man wearing a natty suit and carrying a bloodstained guitar. But is Black Tom merely the assistant? Or is he calling the shots for something much more terrible than anyone expects?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This book packs a lot of horror in its 150 pages — not just cosmic horror, but the terrors facing black men from Harlem in the 1920s. It changes the Robert Suydam from “The Horror at Red Hook” from a garden variety sorcerer villain to a more three-dimensional — and more pitiful — character. And Det. Thomas Malone, the weirdly poetic and sensitive NYC cop from “Red Hook” stays fairly sensitive but gets to be more active and more interesting.

But the best flip of all — Lovecraft’s most racist story gets a new star, a black man who serves as both hero and villain. We see New York through his eyes, see the violent cops, see the dangers of the subways and the new neighborhoods and the white kids who follow him looking for fights. We see his own prejudices, his friends, the difficulties in finding honest work when everyone is allowed to cheat you. We watch him make the terrible decisions that happen in horror stories — and in the end, you realize that for Tommy, those decisions were actually the right ones.

He ends up as a murderous supernatural destroyer — because why shouldn’t he? When the whole world is against you, is working to grind you down, to destroy your family and friends, whether or not they obey the laws, to disregard you as a worthless, ignorant beast — well, why not just pull the curtain down on the human race? Yes, of course, to the reader, we can think of more socially acceptable solutions. But consider if Lovecraft had written this story — Tommy Tester would’ve been the villain solely because he was a monstrous, deformed, black-skinned cartoon. LaValle gives us a smart, ruthless, terribly powerful African-American man with extreme but logical motives.

Let’s say it one more time for the kids in the back row: When you live in a world that utterly devalues a large segment of the population, that demands absolute subservience from those people, that demands the right to debase them, humiliate them, steal from them, and kill them, punishes them when they defend themselves, and bars them from protesting that abuse, even if done peacefully — and if you then decry them when they take stronger ways to say “NO MORE” — you should strongly consider that you are not the hero of the story, and are very likely to be the inhuman beast at the heart of the tale.

Lovecraft might have deplored LaValle and his story, with its more enlightened view of black people, of New York, of a society geared to crush people just because they have the wrong skin color. I suppose we’ll just have to live with phantom Lovecraft’s disappointment. Because it’s a great story, and you’d love reading it. Go pick it up.

Comments off

Batman vs. Cthulhu

Batman-DoomGotham

Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham

This is normally something I’d prefer to review before Halloween. But DC, in its infinite anti-wisdom, chose to release this last week instead of in October, and I’d rather not wait ’til next Halloween to review this. Heck, it took us 15 years to even get this collection, so who knows if DC will leave it in print for the next ten months.

So the plotline? Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City after years exploring the world and discovers a secret conspiracy stretching back years that threatens to destroy the city, if not the rest of the world. So far so typical? Sure, sure, almost every Bat-storyline reads something like that.

But in this case, everything’s been crossed over with H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. You’d think that’d be a strained concept, but it works out amazingly well.

Oswald Cobblepot is a mad professor, waddling naked around the Antarctic with a bunch of tumor-covered penguins. Mr. Freeze has more in common with the cold-dependent Dr. Munoz from Lovecraft’s “Cool Air.” Killer Croc is a mutated Deep One. Poison Ivy shows up as a seductive plant monster. Barbara Gordon is a literal Oracle, interacting with the spirit world to see the future. Ra’s Al Ghul shares an origin with the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. We get appearances from Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent, Jason Blood, Oliver Queen, and more, all twisted around the axes of pulp fiction and cosmic horror.

Verdict: Thumbs up. If you’re not a Lovecraft fan, you’ll get a very good pulp horror story. If you are a Lovecraft fan, you’ll get shivers of joy every few pages whenever a new permutation on HPL’s creations appears. It’s really pretty amazing how perfectly some of Batman’s rogues gallery fit into Lovecraft’s archetypes.

This was written by Mike Mignola and Richard Pace, and though the art is by Troy Nixey, it’s clear that Mignola dropped some heavy hints about what the art should look like, ’cause it’s very Mignolian (Mignolanian? I don’t know.). Of course, Mignola specializes in pulp, especially pulp horror, and some of the images we get here are just gloriously creepy — Cobblepot wandering in the Antarctic, Wayne’s ship frozen in the bay, Harvey Dent’s transformation.

The only villains we don’t get are the two we might most expect — there’s no Joker, and there’s no Cthulhu. Perhaps Mignola planned them for an eventual sequel?

Again, this series has been colossally rare for the past 15 years — the few copies for sale online would cost you about $50 for each of the three issues. But here it is, all collected into a single volume at last. If you let this one slip away from you this time, you don’t need cosmic horrors to drive you mad.

No Amazon link this time — it’s brand new, so check at your local comic shop.

Comments off

The Doom that Came to Riverdale

AfterlifeWithArchie6

Afterlife with Archie #6

I’d initially skipped this series, ’cause it seemed like it was going to be nothing more than a publicity stunt series, but the buzz has been excellent, and I finally picked up the first trade paperback of this series. If you don’t know anything about it, the general idea is that Jughead’s dog Hot Dog is killed, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch decides to resurrect the mutt by casting a spell from the Necronomicon. Of course, this goes badly, and Jughead ends up being Patient Zero for a zombie plague. It’s a wonderful series, dark and grim and genuinely horrifying in all the ways a classic Archie story is not.

In this latest issue, we learn what’s happened to Sabrina since the first issue. Her aunts had learned that she’d dabbled in forbidden magic and cast her into a dimensional limbo as punishment. Here, she sees herself as an inmate at a mental institution, fighting delusions of having magical powers. Her fellow inmates include a musician named Erich Zann and an artist named Richard Pickman, and her counselors include Dr. Lovecraft and Dr. Machen — which is a really bad sign for Sabrina. Of course, they’re in league with the Great Old Ones, and as relentlessly pessimistic as this series is, there’s not much hope for Sabrina to get a happy ending…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fantastic art and story, with lots of gloriously creepy stuff going on, both before the camera and off in the background. As much as I’ve enjoyed the zombified terrors of the previous storyarc, I think it’d be really cool for the rest of the series to have to deal with the perils of the Archie Gang facing the mind-breaking horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos.

Goon-OccasionRevenge1

The Goon: Occasion of Revenge #1

The Zombie Priests — yeah, there are more than just one or two — are moving in to Lonely Street, and the Goon, Franky, and all their allies have to face them down or watch everything get destroyed. Wrapped around this story is a tale of a beautiful but sociopathic woman and the vengeful spirit of a man who commits suicide over her love.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great to see a nice long Goon tale again. Some nice new villains. An absolutely excellent showdown scene. Wondering how all of this is going to end up getting tied together, but I also know I’m probably going to love the final result.

Trees3

Trees #3

Two little storyarcs in this issue, one focusing on Italy, where the tough-minded gangster girl is trying to track down the mysterious vanishing professor, and one in China, where the talented rural artist is told he must get over his fear of the big city and stop locking himself in his apartment.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Yes, there’s actually a lot more to the stories here, but I’d really rather not spoil them. And yes, the entire issue is focused on people having conversations. It’s great to have interestingly talky comics from time to time, right?

Revival22

Revival #22

Lots of little things going on — Lester Majak catches a ghost; Em discovers her new reviver boyfriend Rhodey mutilates himself for online sickos and has been filming the two of them when they have sex; Dana discovers the secret society behind the troubles in New York and even meets up with murderous reviver Anders Hine; Ramin gets hypnotized; and Sheriff Cypress discovers that his grandson may be in danger from a teabagging militia terrorist.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of stuff going on, and all of it held my interest, moved the story along, and deepened the mysteries surrounding the revivers.

Velvet6

Velvet #6

Knowing she’ll never discover who the mole inside ARC-7 while out of the country, Velvet secretly returns to London, collects a new cache of weapons, makes a few contacts, considers the likely suspects, and makes her move on the superspy headquarters.

Verdict: Thumbs up. More great espionage storytelling. Wonderful characters and dialogue, outstanding action, mysteries, and much, much more.

Comments (1)

There’s a Shoggoth at the End of this Book

WheresMyShoggoth

Where’s My Shoggoth? by Ian Thomas and Adam Bolton

Here’s a book published by Archaia Entertainment, publishers of excellent comics like Mouse Guard, Return of the Dapper Men, Cow Boy, Rust, Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand, and plenty of others. But this isn’t really a comic book. I’m going to call it a children’s book. And really, I almost passed this one by entirely, until I noticed one little thing on the back cover that hooked itself into my intrigue gland:

Shoggoth-RatedE-Horror

It’s classified as horror. And it’s rated “E” for everyone.

Can you have a kid-friendly all-ages horror book?

Let’s find out.

There’s very little plot here, not that you need a lot. A young boy goes out one night to play with his pet shoggoth, only to discover that it’s broken out of its pen and gotten lost. He sets out to look for it, accompanied by a cute black kitten, and encounters a host of monsters and deities from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos — but none of them are my shoggoth! Where is my shoggoth?!

The story is told in poetic verse — really, a bit of child-like doggerel — and illustrated in gorgeous, detailed artwork that’s simultaneously adorable, creepy, and hilarious. I hope I can be forgiven for posting the rhymes from the page featuring the monstrous aquatic Deep Ones as an example:

What’s this? Is this my shoggoth?
It has great googly eyes.
Its toes have webs between them,
and it’s heaving heavy sighs.
It says it loves my sister,
and would like to ask her out.
So it can’t have met my sister…
all my sister does is shout!

I’m not going to try to reprint any of the artwork here. There’s so much detail on every page, I can’t imagine it scanning very well.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I loved this book so much, and I’m so glad I got it. If you’re a grownup who enjoys Lovecraftian horror and Lovecraftian humor, this is something you are probably going to want to have on your bookshelf.

Is it going to be something you’ll want for your kids? Well, obviously, every kid is different. If you’re lucky enough to have a kid who loves monsters (six-year-old me waves to the crowd), they’re going to really like this book, because it’s stuffed full of monsters, all depicted in a decent degree of (non-gory) detail. It’s got dark corners, cobwebs, tentacles reaching from the attic, spooky lights, monstrous mansions, and everything else monster-loving kids like. If you’ve got kids whose idea of edgy reading material is “Pat the Bunny,” they may not appreciate it very much. They might be bored, they might be scared, hard to say… but you know your kids and what they’d like better than I do, right?

No matter whether you get it for yourself or your kids, you’ll probably want to read it with a magnifying glass on hand. There are wonderful scary/hilarious images scattered throughout every page, and you won’t want to miss out on any of them.

Anything else? The cover glows in the dark, and there’s a “Chutes and Ladders” style game on the book’s endpages called “Stairs and Tentacles.”

I think you’ll like it. Go pick it up.

Comments (2)

Goin’ Down to Dunwich

The Dunwich Horror #1

This adaptation of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most popular stories is written by horror writer Joe R. Lansdale, which is definitely a step in the right direction. It’s a fairly loose adaptation of the story — for one thing, it’s set in 2011, not in the 1930s. We’re focused on a group of friends getting back together after another friend has been killed and beheaded by persons unknown. But the friends know who the culprit is — an otherworldly, invisible horror who they all summoned in a ritual a long time ago. It’s loose now and stalking them, and the only way to avoid being eventually torn apart by the monster is to find it and send it back where it came from. They’ve probably got quite a task in front of them — a local barn has been blown apart by the thing, and it’s stacked up a gigantic pile of dead, bloody animals that it’s partially eaten. And since it’s invisible, they have no idea if it’s far away, or if it’s getting closer and closer…

There’s also a backup feature — an adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Hound” by Robert Weinberg and a guy called menton3. I couldn’t actually make heads nor tails of it, primarily because the lettering was tiny and crabbed and just plain too much trouble to read.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Yeah, I didn’t get much out of “The Hound,” and it’s a bit odd to see an adaptation of “The Dunwich Horror” that doesn’t start out with Wilbur Whateley and his awful, awful family, but I’m still enjoying what I see. There are enough elements from the original story for me to recognize, and I’ve got enough faith in Joe Lansdale that I expect he won’t steer the story wrong.

Wonder Woman #2

We get to meet Hera — queenly, haughty, hates Zeus, hates his consorts worse — and Strife — skinny, gothy, devious, chaos-loving — before we move to Wonder Woman, arriving on Paradise island with Hermes and Zola. They meet Hippolyta and engage in a tournament — but when Strife herself pays a visit to the island, all bets are off. What secret is the goddess of chaos and discord hiding?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The whole thing is quite nicely done, with great writing, great art, lots of action, intrigue, suspense, and weird stuff. I’m digging this quite a bit.

Today’s Cool Links:

Comments off

Friday Night Fights: Shadow-Boxing over Innsmouth!

It’s time to kick off another 12 rounds of FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS! And since it’s still H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday, I figured I’d keep the theme rollin’…

This is from the first issue of Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham, by Mike Mignola, Richard Pace, Troy Nixey, and Dennis Janke, from sometime in 2000. It was an Elseworlds story, set in the 1930s, with all the villains getting a little Lovecraftian twist. Ra’s al Ghul was turned into Abd al-Hazred, Mr. Freeze turned out like the dead-but-refrigerated doctor in “Cool Air,” Two-Face got some really unpleasant trans-dimensional scarring, Oswald Cobblepot went nuts and ended up living in the Arctic with a bunch of horrifically tumored penguins, and Killer Croc got crossed with the undersea fish monsters called the deep ones

Hope that’s a good way to start a weekend full of monsters, madness, and cosmic horror…

Comments (1)

Happy Birthday, H.P. Lovecraft!

On this date, horror/fantasy/sci-fi writer H.P. Lovecraft was born in 1890. It’s his 120th birthday! Yay!

For you non-horror fans (it’s a pretty sure bet that people who love horror already know who HPL is), Howard Phillips Lovecraft wrote mainly for the old pulp magazines like “Weird Tales” — he was an obscure writer when he died, but his influence has grown greatly over the decades. He’s now considered to be one of the most influential horror writers ever — only Edgar Allan Poe is more important.

Lovecraft’s specialty was what’s now called cosmic horror, in which the universe is a cold and utterly uncaring place, and humanity is a completely insignificant species, prone to being wiped out at any time by the monstrously alien deities that, for now, slumber near us.

Lovecraft’s Big Bad is definitely Cthulhu, an immense octopoid god that sleeps in an ancient sunken city somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. And a common thread through his stories is that anyone who learns the real truth about the universe — that we’re specks with outsized egos, that we could be wiped out by impossibly powerful creatures that can barely even notice us, that the cosmos operates in an utterly alien fashion that our science can’t even begin to explain — is doomed to madness, despair, and suicide.

And Lovecraft was able to make that intensely nihilistic vision work for readers. In fact, his Cthulhu Mythos has been picked up and carried forward by countless writers, fans, and critics who’ve written new stories about his concepts — and have created movies, music, art, games… and comics, too. Here are a few that’ve gotten at least some of their inspiration from Lovecraft…

So everyone celebrate with a Cthulhu cake and Nyarlathotep punch and Yog-Sothoth pie!

Comments off

Lovecraft 101

Tour de Lovecraft: The Tales by Kenneth Hite

Getting a little tired of reviewing comics all the time, so let’s change gears and look at a regular book for once.

A year or two back, a friend of mine noticed the stuffed Cthulhu toy I keep around the house and asked what it was, leading to a fairly lengthy explanation of H.P. Lovecraft, the Cthulhu Mythos, and cosmic horror in general. All went well until: “So if I wanted to read some of this Lovecraft stuff, where should I start?”

Well, that was a tough question. I’d read all of Lovecraft’s stories, and I think he’s a great writer — but he is an acquired taste for a lot of folks, with a tendency to write in a very archaic style that may not translate well for a lot of modern readers. I couldn’t very well tell my friend “Just go read all of them.” Some folks react better to HPL’s shorter stories, some like his longer stories, some groove on his more Poe-esque tales, some adore his more brain-blasting cosmic horror — and it’s hard to predict who is going to like what. How do you pick the right recommendations for the right person?

There’s finally an easy solution. Hand them this book, let ’em read it through over a couple of nights, and let ’em pick what they want to read after that.

“Tour de Lovecraft” is written by Kenneth Hite, a writer and RPG designer who dearly loves all things Lovecraftian. He has a scholar’s knowledge of Lovecraft and Lovecraft research, a geek’s enthusiasm for the subject, and a comedian’s ability to make it all fun to read. His essays on all of Lovecraft’s stories are short and easy to digest — he tackles everything from Lovecraft’s influences and history, his disciples, the scholars who’ve researched his work over the decades, all the way to frank discussions of Lovecraft’s racism and how it affects his stories.

This book makes great reading for Lovecraft fanatics, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that may help novices figure out what all the crawling chaos is all about.

If you’re a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, you owe it to yourself to make sure this is on your bookshelf. It’ll be fun for you to read, and it may help you create some more Lovecraft fans.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Nerds vs. Fred Phelps? NERDS WIN.
  • Alan Moore does have an occasional tendency to be an arrogant douche… but then again, if the major comics companies treated me this way, I think I’d cop a ‘tude, too.

Comments (1)

All Hell Breaks Loose

LovecraftAdventures4

The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft #4

Previously in this series, pulp horror writer H.P. Lovecraft had a chance encounter with the blasphemous Necronomicon that causes him to manifest monsters from other dimensions when he goes to sleep. Fearing that this curse could destroy his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, he tries to convince his ex-girlfriend Sylvia St. Claire to leave the city, and he goes to a psychiatrist friend for help. Unfortunately, Lovecraft ended up drugged and locked into a padded room. As this issue begins, Lovecraft’s insane mother, incarcerated at the asylum, gets him out of the hospital and put on a train out of town, but he finally wakes up and takes off back to Providence. Sylvia has returned to the university library with a police escort, but when Lovecraft’s horrors attack the library, she’s taken by the monsters. Can Lovecraft save Sylvia, banish the Elder Gods, and escape the police?

Verdict: Thumbs up. An excellent ending for this story, with lots of action and Cthulhoid horrors all at once. I’ve been very impressed with the characterization in this series — Lovecraft, of course, is our standout here, but Lovecraft’s mother is also a very interesting character, and even minor characters like the mayor and the police chief get some moments to shine. And I’m impressed that the wealthy and shallow Grayson Chesser, Lovecraft’s rival for Sylvia’s love, ends up coming across as a much better person than we’d been lead to believe.

JSA80Page

Justice Society of America 80-Page Giant #1

We’ve got a bunch of different and mostly unrelated stories here, with a framing device about some sort of supernatural distubance in the JSA brownstone that’s causing strange warping effects and hallucinations. We get stories about the first meeting of the original Mr. America and Ma Hunkel; Amazing Man fighting a monster without his powers; Wildcat Jr. discovering a strange family secret; Cylcone time-traveling to help Power Girl and Wildcat fight Icicle; and Damage hallucinating a nightmarish surgery session.

Verdict: Generally thumbs up. I liked some of the stories a lot, and I thought it was cool that they gave Cyclone, who’s usually a comic relief character, a rare chance to be a badass. But some parts of this were wildly clumsy. We get treated to yet another embarrassingly defensive made-up excuse for Power Girl’s costume, we get very inconsistent portrayals of Damage, we get an appearance by Amazing Man that just underscores the fact that we’ve barely seen him in this comic in months. But that’s the problem with DC’s “80-Page Giants” — they tend to be a place to dump a lot of filler material. And even if it’s good filler material, it may never be mentioned again.

Comments off

The Casting Call of Cthulhu

‘Tis the season to review a Lovecraftian movie that’s a few years old…

The Call of Cthulhu

People have been telling me I should see this movie forever, and I finally broke down and gave it a watch.

If you’re any sort of fan of H.P. Lovecraft, you know “The Call of Cthulhu” as his best known story, written back in 1926 and consisting primarily of a series of notes and accounts of various strange phenomena, blasphemous cults worshiping a monstrous squid-headed deity called Cthulhu, and panicked speculation about what it could all mean. It reads better than it sounds, because Lovecraft was a master of taking bizarre ideas and making them sound, if not plausible, at least fun to imagine. It’s also one of the few Lovecraft stories that no one has ever made a serious attempt to film — because how do you turn a bunch of scribbled and typewritten notes into a film?

Back around the early- to mid-2000s, the folks who run the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, already very well experienced with creating realistic props for “Call of Cthulhu” RPG campaigns, decided to do what was thought to be impossible — make a film adaptation of Lovecraft’s most referenced story. And they went with a suprisingly low-tech, low-cost strategy — a silent movie.

What’s cool is the fact that, if anyone had made a movie of Lovecraft’s stories while he was still alive, this is what you would’ve gotten — a black-and-white silent movie. They actually use a combination of vintage filmmaking techniques and modern digital effects — they use digital compositing to turn a small number of actors into a horde of cultists, while they go with old-school stop-motion animation to create Cthulhu himself.

How’s it turn out? It turns out pretty darn awesome. You’ve got excellent editing, cinematography, lighting, and low-tech but very cool special effects. You’ve got sets, acting, and makeup that call to mind German Expressionism. You have an amazingly effective musical score. (True story: First time I watched this, I accidentally watched it without the sound, thinking, hey, silent movie, right? The second time, I realized my mistake and turned the speakers on — Wow, what a difference. Turned a cool movie into a seriously awesome one.)

I doubt it ever had a shot at any serious hoity-toity film awards, but it’s very, very popular with Lovecraft fans. Heck, even film connoisseurs may get a kick out of a recent-vintage old-school silent movie. And yes, it does look like they did the impossible — this is the most faithful adaptation of any of Lovecraft’s works, and it’s also pretty spooky and suspenseful, too. Lovecraft fans, this should be on your Must-See list, if you haven’t seen it already.

Not sure this is going to be available at local retailers of any sort, but you can find it for sale online.

Go pick it up. It makes great Halloween viewing for Cthulhu worshipers of all sorts.

Comments off