“Providence” #9 — A Calm Before The Storm?

Posted: June 2, 2016 in comics
Tags: , , , , ,

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As Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence #9 opens up, the big moment has finally arrived — Robert Black has arrived in the series’ titular city, and surely that means it can only be a matter of time until all hell breaks loose and reality (shoot, any number of realities) comes crashing down around the ears (and eyes, and mind, and everything else) of our largely-hapless protagonist. Events have been building, both quietly and not-so-quietly, toward a crashing symphony of potentially-apocalyptic proportions for some time now in the pages of this book, it’s true, and it would be natural to assume that, with only three issues left to go after this one, the time to start “unleashing the beast” would be now.

Here’s the thing about Alan Moore, though — love him or hate him, the simple truth is that he’s just plain smarter than the rest of us (well, most of the rest of us, at any rate), and he wisely takes this occasion to “dial back” on some of the more overt manifestations of the horrific that have punctuated recent chapters of this still-unfolding masterwork in order to lay the groundwork, both geographically and metaphysically, for his final act. As such, most of this issue feels like something of a “break” for poor Black as he’s guided on a couple of walking tours through Providence — first by a young man whose company he , shall we say, very much enjoys, and then by H.P. Lovecraft himself, whose company enjoys even more, albeit for entirely different reasons.

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Now, fair enough, the old “walking and talking” routine has accounted for something like 50% Providence‘s page count so far, but here’s the damn thing — it never seems to get dull, does it? Not when the conversations are dripping with as much import as Moore consistently imbues them with. Issue nine is no exception to this rule, but some of those “double meanings” and “triple meanings” and even “quadruple meanings” are right out there in the open (so to speak) this time around, thanks to the special glasses worn by Henry Annesley, a stand-in character for From Beyond‘s Crawford Tillinghast (From Beyond arguably being the closest thing we have to an “anchor story” from the Lovecraft canon in this issue, although The Shunned HouseThe Case Of Charles Dexter WardThe Haunter Of The Dark, and The Colour Out Of Space, among others, all make their presence felt, as well), designed to see “light from the far violet frequencies.” Jacen Burrows does an absolutely superb job of delineating the various grotesqueries adrift in these other, “higher” dimensions, and it must be said that they’re not always employed merely for the purposes of the horrific — for instance, the comings-and-goings of one of these bizarre creatures in rhythm with the obviously-building sexual attraction between Black and one Howard Charles (Moore’s analogue for Charles Dexter Ward) leads to one of this series’ most “laugh-out-loud funny” moments.

On the whole, though, Annesley’s character functions as something of a flesh-and-blood “pressure release valve” — at least for the time being — offering as he does a mostly-rational and thoroughly (enough, at any rate) scientific explanation for most of the “high weirdness” he and his fellow members of the Stella Sapiente order are engaged in, a viewpoint that’s tremendously reassuring to Black given that it allows him to  maintain his “blissfully ignorant” mindset without undercutting the premise for his still-supposedly-in-development novel completely.

Oh, sure, certain statements made by both Annesley and, later, Charles (who Black is “passed over” to once Annesley’s other-dimensional “friends” clue him in to what’s going on) are laden, knowingly or otherwise, with portents of impending doom of the sort that we’ve grown accustomed to in these always-remarkable pages, but by and large it has to be said that if two words could be used to describe our protagonist’s mindset in this chapter (titled, non-coincidentally as ever, “Outsiders”), they would be genuinely relaxed.

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It’s when Black finally visits Lovecraft himself, though, that things kick into another gear altogether in this issue. Moore, as is his custom, appears to have left no stone unturned in his ransacking of the author’s available biographical data, and the end result is quite likely the most fully-realized representation he’s ever been given in a fictionalized narrative. Lovecraft historians will no doubt be pleased as punch with every word he utters, every gesture he makes, and every one of his mannerisms and habits brought to life by The Beaded One’s script and Burrows’ meticulous renderings, and will also be left with plenty or material for debate and discussion thanks to Moore peppering both the pages of the comic book proper and the “Commonplace Book” backmatter with plenty of intriguing theories about their favorite writer’s life, particularly in relation to his — what did they call them again at the time? — “nervous ailments.”

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Speaking of which, the conversation Lovecraft has with his mother outside the doors of the hospital where she’s institutionalized strongly implies that she needs no special glasses to see the ultraviolet spectrum (among others), and is peppered with any number of “callbacks” to the first Moore/Burrows story in this entire cycle — yes, there was one before Neonomicon, and you would do very well to go look it up, since it appears that it will will have not-inconsiderable bearing on the remainder of this series. So grab yourself a copy of Avatar’s Alan Moore’s Yuggoth Cultures And Other Growths trade paperback collection; I have a feeling it’ll come in handy.

Lest we as readers find ourselves getting too comfortable along with the central character we’re following, though, Moore concludes his script for this issue with a line of dialogue from Lovecraft about his relationship with his mother that can be read in any number of ways, many of them quite disturbing indeed, and Burrows accentuates this unpleasantness with a final splash-page image that showcases a memorably ghoulish gallery of extra-dimensional entities swarming well beyond both the reach and, crucially, the awareness of our ostensible “heroes” as they make their way back to their respective lodgings. They’re keeping their distance — for now. But you just know the good times ain’t gonna last forever, and it’s that constant sense of inescapable doom — even during the series’  purportedly “quiet” moments — that elevates Providence into the lofty (and at this point entirely deserved) ranks of modern horror masterworks.

 

Comments
  1. Ryan C. (trashfilmguru) says:

    Reblogged this on Through the Shattered Lens.

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