Friday, 2 September 2016

(H.P. Lovecraft) - 'Providence by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows

"The things once rearing and dwelling in this frightful masonry in the age of dinosaurs were not indeed dinosaurs, but far worse. Mere dinosaurs were new and almost brainless objects - but the builders of the city were wise and old, and had left certain traces in rocks even then laid down well nigh a thousand million years - rocks laid down before the true life of earth had advanced beyond plastic groups of cells - rocks laid down before the true life of earth had existed at all. They were the makers and enslavers of that life and above all doubt the originals of the fiendish elder myths which things like the Pnakotic Manuscripts and the Necronomicon affrightedly hint about. They were the great "Old Ones" that had filtered down from the stars when earth was young - the beings whose substance an alien evolution had shaped, and whose powers were such as this planet had never bred."

I was concerned before I started reading this graphic novel that I knew too little about H.P. Lovecraft.  After all, I had only read the one novella, 'At The Mountains of Madness' and was worried my knowledge insufficient. I thought that all the references made by the author might pass me by leaving my experience less fulfilling. I needn't have worried. This superb book, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Jacen Burrows carries enough menace, delivered in slow gathering dread, to assuage all my fears.

Steven King declared H.P. Lovecraft as being the man who inspired him to write horror. That author and artist should combine their talents to conceive such a creeping horror in honour of Lovecraft is a source of joy to those who worship at the altar of the man from Rhodes Island yet in itself contains trepidation enough for it to stand alone. I found this incredibly executed work darker than Hades and far scarier than meeting Satan in a dim lit alleyway in Wapping. Not because it intellectualizes the process of writing a horror story in the fashion of Lovecraft but in spite of it. The way the story is told in such precise fashion with believable dialogue, a compelling narrative, a cast of characters both human and implacably inhuman, really is masterful.

"And to think that only the day before Danforth and I had actually looked upon fragments of their millennially fossilized substance - and that poor Lake and his party had seen their complete outlines - It is of course impossible for me to relate in proper order the stages by which we picked up what we know of that monstrous chapter of prehuman life. After the first shock of the certain revelation, we had to pause a while to recuperate, and it was fully three o 19clock before we got started on our actual tour of systematic research. The sculptures in the building we entered were of relatively late date - perhaps two million years ago-as checked up by geological, biological, and astronomical features - and embodied an art which would be called decadent in comparison with that of specimens we found in older buildings after crossing bridges under the glacial sheet. One edifice hewn from the solid rock seemed to go back forty or possibly even fifty million years - to the lower Eocene or upper Cretaceous - and contained bas-reliefs of an artistry surpassing anything else, with one tremendous exception, that we encountered. That was, we have since agreed, the oldest domestic structure we traversed."

This is a highly creative, incredibly conceived yet deeply disturbed feat of imagination. It is a work of fiction that has been deeply researched but which manages to immerse the reader in a world dreadfully real as it presents monsters utterly maleficient.

As ever with Moore he writes the panels in such a way that the artist, still with a margin of flexibility, illustrates the narrative to follow the author's definition as closely as possible. This gives a seamless interconnectivity to the work that in itself affords an intimacy, a sense of purpose to the whole.

It is 1919. The Great War has ended. Fascism is in the air, taut and tense. Sexuality, other than hetero, is frowned up, worse, regarded as an abomination. This is the backdrop

The use of time flips is masterful. The back and forth between past and present increases the sense of oddness, the feeling of disconnection, that subtle separation from perceived reality that slides into one frame but then is missing in the next. 

There is a strong sexual undercurrent at play. H.P. Lovecraft appears as Robert Black who is the key protagonist. The opening scenes show a man tearing up a letter he has written to a lover. At this stage, we have no idea who the man is nor who the letter has been written to. Three panels depict the letter as it is ripped in half then we see the man's back as he casts the letter into the river (presumably the Hudson) below. Later, as Robert Black recollects an affair we only get glimpses of his lover's hand - smoking a cigarette, waving a plump, varnished camp genuflection.  Then the penny drops. Black's lover is  a man, a cross-dresser. It is he who we see in the opening scenes. Robert Black is bisexual. Lovecraft was meant to be asexual or at least of having an aversion to sex. Is this Alan Moore playing games with us? Delicious games it has to be said. Is Moore suggesting Lovecraft's distaste for sexual congress was a form of sexual repression? Was Lovecraft possibly gay?

The slithering foreboding gathers a slow threat as Robert Black, a journalist, resigns his post to research a book he has long wanted to write. He travels east to New England on to Rhodes Island before arriving at his final destination - Providence.

The pace, as already mentioned, is stealthy, unsettling but never slow. Each panel takes you further down the road to some uncertain terror as yet unleashed. The tension builds accordingly.

'Providence' was initially published by Avatar Press from 2015 to 2016 as twelve comic books. This novel contains four of the twelve in hardback, casebound version and is entitled 'Providence Act 1 Limited Edition.' 

This from Alan Moore....

"But what Providence is, is an attempt to write – at least, my attempt to write what I would consider to be a piece of ultimate Lovecraft fiction, in that it will be fiction, it will be a continuation of Neonomicon, it will in a sense be a prequel to that book, but it will also – slightly – be a sequel as well. It will be dealing with the world of Lovecraft’s American-based fiction."

It would be hard to better 'Neonomicom' with its tantalizing, terrifying story but I'd go so far as to say that this is what 'Providence' does. The real proof of the pudding will be in the subsequent books.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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