Neonomicon’s semi-interesting, mostly-boring cover. At least it is connected to the story.

Alan Moore has become one of the preeminent voices in comics today, and quite rightly so. From his small beginnings working for 2000ad on strange little SF flavoured anecdotes (Tharg’s Future Shocks) all the way to writing what some people would call one of the best comics ever written (Watchmen) and in the process change the very idea of what we call comics and graphic novels. This might seem grandiose praise, but I do believe that he has had a massive impact. I’ve enjoyed his work immensely.

So then, I was very interested to discover that he had written a small comic series influenced by H.P.Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, entitled “Neonomicon.”  A large portion of my own professional work has been dedicated to a similar pursuit, so it was inevitable that I would (eventually) get around to reading it. I am very late to the party though, since its been out for about two years. GRrr! I was dismayed, however, that it wasn’t as good as it could have been, or even, as good as it should have been. Heh, yeah, that does sound rather demanding, doesn’t it?

So, what’s the deal, guv? Its not that the Neonomicon is a bad piece of work – its not, it is quite a nice little thing, but it seemed as though it could have been the seeds of something altogether more satisfying; it feels half done and empty.  Apparently, Mr. Moore has admitted that this was always just a little project to pay the bills and it does feel that way as well. There are some of good ideas – to be expected from Moore, I think, as he does have a lot of them.  But sometimes you need more than a good idea,  you need a good vehicle to present them in. Take the League of Extraordinary Gentleman, for example, is such a thing. If you’re going to do a Cthulhu Mythos pastiche, Mr. Moore, do it like that.

Neonomicon functions in much the same way that HPL’s own stories do, particularly “The Call of Cthulhu,” except without the entire wrap around device. Bits of disparate evidence come together to create a mystery and through odd connections and speculation, a conclusion is reached by the main character, who realizes that though they have learned too much, it is too late for them and their days are numbered.  The overall story has compelling scenes, characters and a good dose of weirdness to cement it as a worthy mythos story, but to me, the problem is in how overt it is in making you realize that that is exactly what it is. Not a page goes by without blantantly mentioning something from the Mythos and by keeping on doing so, cheapens the whole thing. I’m not sure if that was the subtext behind Moore’s piece: most of the mentions of Mythos names occur in a gibberish language named “aklo”, which could be intended to mirror Lovecraft’s own gibberish languages and provide their occult theme. Moore could be saying “its all gobbledigook – look, I can do that too.”  Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the impact that Lovecraft’s choice phrases do for me and undermined the story. Just like saying the same word over and over again, it became trite and uninteresting.

Another downside was the conveyance of horror. There really wasn’t much in it. A few gore shots, strange mutilations, some shock scenes that really weren’t presented well… In some ways that has something to do with the artwork, which is very proficient in terms of technique, but weak in composition and presentation. Merril Brear’s abuse at the hands of the Dagon cult and their inhuman friends isn’t put forward as a particularly horrific thing, which could be due to the characters nymphomania and the fact that she’d do anything really, but still, if the character isn’t horrified at the thought of it, why should we be? Once again, I’m not sure if this is intentional or not considering the ending, but it really doesn’t sit well with the material of the Mythos. The impact of the sequence was limp.

Well, *this* looks important, doesn’t it? Nope, nothing to do with the story…

Outside of the random name drops from the Mythos, there’s very little actual mythos to be seen or had. There’s some very nice artwork which brings in the imagery, but there’s little point to it: its not connected to the story in any way. I’m not suggesting that a work such as this needs to have every classic entity from the Mythos, but when you have a double-page spread in a comic, it should be something important to the story you’re presenting.  I got the impression that its Moore’s attempt to name drop in the same way that Lovecraft would do to spice things up and nail a reference, but Lovecraft would use a sentence to get that point across (although perhaps a long one), not two pages, and so the reference would not veer away from the point being made. At least, no more than his meandering style does.  Once again, I wonder if this is yet another possible little snipe at HPL, a man who often created large vistas of prose, yet said little with them. If this is the case, it seems wasted: the illustrative diversions are large, cool and definitely give a wow and once you turn the page, you realize it had nothing to do with what you were reading whatsoever. Disappointment sets in.

So, what is good in it? Well, the story definitely does what Moore does best. He reinvents things in a thoughtful way. Moore has taken pretty much every major thing in the Cthulhu Mythos, chopped up the references and spun it in a new way, creating something that while new, does actually contribute something to the Mythos as a whole. The story even eats itself and regurgitates it into a new form and this once again showing Moore’s penchant for deep subtext, seems to be the point – he is overtly encouraging fans of Lovecraft to stop living in the Mythos of the past and its conventions, inventions and restrictions, and begin to live in the future, or at least, get up to speed in the present.

To a fan such as myself, Lovecraft’s own stories are indelibly set in the past. I’d rather seen an adaptation or story set in the same timeframe, so it evokes all the things I hold dear to them, but I don’t think everyone should do that. My own work in the genre (loosely speaking) as part of the Eternal Darkness dev team was driven by the idea of Lovecraftian stories across the ages, going all the way back to 30BC to the present (at that time 2002). I have also run a lot of Call of Cthulhu RPG sessions set in the modern era and even in the far future using the Traveller 2300 ruleset. I’m not the only one to have taken Lovecraft’s toys and played with them outside of his sandpit.  But if a creative force such as Moore does, they should take the time to invest the lore into the core of the story, rather than just use the terms and images as a garnish. If they’re not going to do that, why involve the Mythos at all? Doing so is just like taking a leak in a hot tub, right before you get out to go to home.

Cthulhu lies dreaming. Probably disappointed by the Neonomicon’s depiction of himself. Or that he didn’t get the cover spot.

So, Mr. Moore, why did you? Was it a love letter to Lovecraft and your contribution to the Mythos’ ever-growing lore? Or a not-so-subtle hint to his legions of fans today, many of which have a superfluous interest in the material? Is it your commentary on how thin it has become, or ever was?

Image Credits: Avatar Press, Jacen Burrows