Reviewed by Ian Moore 06-Nov-10
The ending of Neonomicon‘s second episode is so extreme that it is a wonder that this is not sold in shrink-wrap with a warning about it not being suitable for the under 18s.
Alan Moore is perhaps the most famous comics writer in the Anglophone world. Neonomicon is one of his more obscure pieces of work. Now on its second issue, the title comes from the minor publisher Avatar, and is a sequel to The Courtyard, another collaboration between Moore and artist Jacen Burrows.
The first issue of this begins with two FBI agents going to a secure psychiatric institution to interview an inmate once one of their colleagues. The inmate was the main character in The Courtyard, and was locked up after mutilating and beheading a number of unfortunates. The agents are investigating some similar slayings, apparently by other people unconnected with the inmate, and hope that their former colleague will assist them. He, however, answers their questions with incoherent gibberish, throwing out words like “Cthulhu”, “R’lyeh”, “Hastur”, “Y’Golonac”, and so on. For we are in the land of H.P. Lovecraft pastiche.
The story follows the FBI agents as they investigate clues and gradually get a sense of the deeper awfulness they are up against. Much of it is very cop, with undercover agents running around, waving guns, chasing suspects, and so on. Each episode, though, ends with moments of genuine horror that banish the sense of this being just another police procedural. These blasts from beyond establish this title as one of the better Lovecraft-inspired pieces of work, either in comics or in any other format.
Burrows’ art is a big help here. He work is not as obviously striking as some of the other artists with whom Moore has collaborated. On a first glance, the line drawings he presents can seem crudely functional. However, this kind of understated approach works well for a horror comic. Lovecraftiana often attracts art that is almost luridly psychedelic, with the aesthetic ghastliness of the visuals serving to undermine the disconcerting feeling the story is meant to evoke. Burrows’ more straightforward approach gives us a better sense of the everyday world invaded by things that should not be. There is also a subtlety to the art that can easily be missed, particularly with facial expressions. And some delightful details are thrown in, like the oddly shaped woman walking a monstrous baby.
Given Moore’s own interest in the occult, his pairing with Lovecraft seems rather appropriate. However, Neonomicon does more than just follow along in Lovecraft’s footsteps. Moore’s own interests are brought to the table. One of the characters in the book is aware of the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and his circle, sensing therefore the oddness of an investigation uncovering events that mirror their imaginary worlds. Beyond a fascination with the interplay of fiction and reality, Moore’s recurring conception of sexuality as something unfathomable and profoundly irrational rears its head here. In the first issue, one of the FBI agents is revealed as a recovering sex addict. At the end of issue 2 we get orgone energies being used to power magical rituals and then the kind of unnatural couplings that Lovecraft himself could only hint at in the most oblique of terms.
The ending of Neonomicon‘s second episode is so extreme that it is a wonder that this is not sold in shrink-wrap with a warning about it not being suitable for the under 18s. And it lends support to those who allege that there is a misogynist strain to Alan Moore’s writing, that in his work he likes to make deeply unpleasant things happen to women characters. That issue’s conclusion is deeply disturbing, which at one level is a good thing for horror fiction, but there is something a bit distasteful about the use of a woman’s sexual degradation to produce that effect.Tags: Alan Moore, Jacen Burrows