Archive for H.P. Lovecraft

Batman vs. Cthulhu


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.

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The Doom that Came to Riverdale


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.

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There’s a Shoggoth at the End of this Book


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:


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.

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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:

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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…

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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!

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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.

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All Hell Breaks Loose


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.


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.

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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.

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City of Monsters


The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft #3

H.P. Lovecraft is on the run — after saving Chesser from demonic squamous horrors from beyond our dimension, he’s actually been identified as the attacker. His aunts manage to hide him from the police, but he goes out anyway, intent on convincing his ex-girlfriend Sylvia to leave Providence to escape whatever disaster may be approaching the city. He also goes to a psychiatrist he trusts, hoping he’ll help him stay awake so the monsters won’t re-emerge. But he’s betrayed by the doctor, shot full of morphine, and locked in a cell in the asylum where his mother’s been imprisoned for years. Of course, the doc gets paid back for his treachery by eldritch forces, but that doesn’t improve things for Lovecraft — or for Providence — one bit.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great suspense and a fun grasp of Lovecraft’s style of cosmic horror. I was expecting Tony Salmons’ impressionistic art style to wear on me by now, but it really does suit the story very well.

The Unwritten #3

Tom Taylor has returned to the castle where he grew up — coincidentally, the same castle where Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein.” As it turns out, there’s a small professionals-only horror symposium taking place there, featuring a half-dozen bad-horror-writer archetypes (Personally, I’m hoping the torture-porn writer gets killed good and hard). The mysterious Elizabeth Hexam is there, too, trying to get Tom to remember what happened to his father the night he disappeared. And as it turns out, Tom realizes that his father hid a safe in the house, figures out the passcode, and finds a couple of strange and seemingly useless items that his dad left for him. Will they be any use against the mystic assassin who’s closing in on Tom?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This really is an excellent series. Lots of fun, lots of mystery, lots of spooky stuff, all tied up in a “Harry Potter” wrapping that makes it all feel familiar and strange at the same time.

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