Archive for December 10, 2016

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Upon first pass-through, you could almost be forgiven, a few pages into Providence #11, for thinking that you must have missed an issue somewhere along the way. Not just because of the massive delay between the previous installment and this current one (though that certainly didn’t help matters), but because the tone, tenor, and most crucially the tempo of everything have so clearly changed, and so quickly. Gone is the comic that spent most of its time showing our protagonist either taking long walks or having deep, philosophical conversations while all the genuine horror taking place both around and, crucially, to him escaped his notice, and in its place stands a story about a man who is fully awake, fully aware, and understandably scared to death — and when the dam of blissful denial breaks, all bets are off as surely as the brakes are on this frenetically-paced, deliberately- whiplash-inducing issue. The apocalypse is on, both personal and global, and it’s all set to the tune of You Made Me Love You, as sung by Al Jolson!

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Most of the bizarre personages (and not-quite-personages) that Robert Black has met over the course of his travels through haunted New England circa 1919 are back in the opening splash page for this issue (titled, incidentally, “The Unnamable”), but before you even have a chance to ponder too much over who Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows have both included and excluded in this massive “jam panel” (as well as why they were either left in or out), the wheels on our hapless hero’s metaphorical mental train begin to come off, and a couple of “chance” encounters with old “friends” only serve to grease the tracks that eventually lead Black to — well, you can see for yourself on the main cover, as pictured at the outset of this review. And there was a record playing the last time we visited this particular establishment, as well, way back in issue number one.

Still, while Black’s physical life may be coming to an understandable end here, a great deal of the proceedings this time out are focused on how his influence, by means of his “Commonplace Book,” (which we shan’t be getting any further excerpts from) continues in perpetuity, and a heady mix of rapid-fire vignettes show us both how a number of the “fictional” stories to which we’ve been introduced cocnclude, and how various events in the (forgive me for using the term, but) “Providence universe” mirror those of our own, “real” world. Be on the lookout, for instance, for William S. Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and, of course, H.P. Lovecraft himself (among others) in this extended epilogue that calls to mind Moore and Eddie Campbell’s “Dance Of The Gull-Catchers” appendage to From Hell, and keep http://factsprovidence.wordpress.com handy while you’re at it, as my friends there, who always do an incredible job with their annotations, have surely out-done themselves with their on-the-spot scholarship this time around. Seriously, guys, you’ve crossed the threshold from “interesting” to “invaluable” with your efforts here, and while I always do a first read cover- to- cover before consulting said site, never was I more tempted to break that rule than with this issue.

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The little details all matter more than ever here in number 11, as well, as there are no “little details.” The panels with the record playing are all straight-ruled, for instance, while most others are unevenly hand-ruled. Brown Jenkins’ car turns up again at a precisely-timed-yet-unexpected moment. The Kirlian-type effect first introduced with the arrival of Johnny Carosa re-enters the picture. And a panel displaying any number of consumer products related to the Cthulhu Mythos arrives as commentary on the commercialization of this once-dark and foreboding universe just as Moore’s script plunges us into the blackest heart of its essential truths in a more fundamental and inescapable fashion than anyone since — well, who are we kidding? Since Lovecraft himself. There are no accidents here. And that might be the scariest thing about it.

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To say that Providence #11 has it all is probably doing the concept of “all” a disservice by selling it short. This issue is heartbreaking, harrowing, insightful, crazed, meticulous, mysterious, engrossing, thought-provoking, imaginative, beautiful, desolate, darkly humorous — all in the extreme. How we get from the end of Robert Black’s life (though not his story, which is one of this series’ main themes, of course) to the modern, post-Neonomicon world is one of the most invigorating and intoxicating comics reading experiences I’ve ever had the privilege of partaking in, and while  I have some minor quibbles with it on the artistic front in terms of a small handful of choices that Burrows — who for the most part does masterful work here — makes in terms of angle and perspective in certain panels (why is Dr. West/North’s disembodied, speaking head so darn far away?), and I’m definitely less than thrilled (though, sadly, hardly surprised) by Avatar’s decision to continue charging $4.99 for this title despite the fact that the absence of the “Commonplace Book” backmatter reduces the page count from 40 to a standard 32 this time out, you know what? Griping about those details when confronted with an artistic achievement of this magnitude, scope, and dare I say it grandeur almost seems petty — and pointless. After all, who are we kidding? All is Yuggoth. All is lost.

Ain’t it just grand?

 

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I’m assuming that anyone with an internet connection is at least familiar in passing with the urban legend of the “Black Eyed Children,” but just in case you’re not, here’s a brief recap of the phenomenon : pale and creepy-looking kids with retina-free eyes whose color can best be described as falling somewhere between “onyx” and “obsidian” show up unannounced on peoples’ front doors and/or porches and ask, in “vampire rules” fashion, to be let in. Sometimes they provide a pretext (“I’m hungry,” “I’m cold,” etc.), sometimes not, but whatever the case, if you do let ’em in you’ll probably regret it. Often they don’t appear to do much more than creep people out and overstay their welcome, but sometimes they’ve been known to go so far as to kill folks, so hey — why take the chance? Apparently these sightings go back decades, perhaps even centuries, and while no one’s exactly sure who or what these kids are, much less what they want, numerous theories abound, mostly of the — as you’ve no doubt already guessed  — extraterrestrial or interdimensional variety.

If it all sounds a bit far-fetched to you, dear reader, you’re far from alone, but the story has been co-opted to serve as the foundation for any number of self-published novels, a handful of “non-fiction” books from paranormal-themed publishing houses, and Joe Pruett and Szymon Kudranski have even based a pretty good little Aftershock Comics series called B.E.K. : Black Eyed Kids on all this hubbub. So there’s definitely a “niche market” interest in this subject, and why not? After all, as crazy as it all may come off to skeptics and “non-believers” (myself included), it’s still a million times more believable than all this “Pizzagate” bullshit that’s taken the online world (or the really fucking stupid parts of it, at any rate) by storm over the last few weeks and is well on its way to becoming a bona fide modern-day witch-hunt. So, hey, not only is it probably well past time that someone made a Black Eyed Children-themed horror flick, at this point you honestly have to wonder both what took so long and if it’s already a case of “too little, too late” given than ever-more-dubious modern myths are springing up to capture the interest and attention of less-than-critical thinkers the world over.

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Stepping boldly into the breach and beating everyone else to the punch, though, was one Justin Snyder, who launched a crowd-funding effort on Kickstarter in 2015 to get his brainchild, Black Eyed Children : Let Me In made — and claimed that he could do so for the paltry sum of $350. Response was stronger than he’d anticipated, however, and by the time his campaign was finished he had raised a whopping $767, every penny of which I have no doubt went into the production itself when cameras (okay, his one camera) rolled later that year.  In fact, I’d say it’s a fairly safe bet that the entire budget went into a couple of actually rather ambitious practical special effects that can be seen toward the end of the film — at least, I hope that’s where it went, because if he paid any of his actors so much as a dime, then he got ripped off big-time.

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Not that he needed to “hire” very many, of course, given that Snyder himself “stars” in this “mockumentary” as an unnamed filmmaker working on a project about — well, you already know. And so he traipses around town (the town in question, I’m reliably informed, being Springfield, Virginia) looking for folks who have supposedly “encountered” the kids and getting both the details of their “ordeals” as well as their theories on who the heck these little shits are and what their whole game is. Of course, at some point he’s gotta talk to a college professor (played by Candice “CJ” Johnson, who gives a performance that’s at least — uhmmm — memorable and unique, to put it politely) to get a learned perspective on all this, but in the end his own curiosity compels him to try to get some “hands-on” experience himself, and he duly heads out toward the Black Eyed Children-sighting “hot spot” of Hunstman Lake, where a group of regular kids had a decidedly hairy run-in with their creepier counterparts (in a scene that’s presented in a very effective manner that any filmmaker with any sized budget would be proud of), only to discover that he’s walking right into a meeting with destiny that’s probably not gonna end all that well for him. So, yeah, not only does this particular “found footage” number owe its entire stylistic premise to The Blair Witch Project, it also more or less swiped its (admittedly skeletal) plot, as well.

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Still, absolute redundancy and seriously dodgy acting aside, I’m prepared to give Snyder a bit of a break here, and not solely because of his near-empty war chest. Black Eyed Children : Let Me In (which I caught streaming via Amazon Prime and is also available on a number of cable and satellite “on-demand” services) clearly has its heart in the right place, even if its head is often anywhere but (we’re told at the outset, for instance, that a whopping 2,300 children go missing every day — which is probably only remotely true if you count the ones who get out of their parents’ sight at the mall for about five minutes only to turn right back up again), and there are a smattering of shots in here that are good enough to make you forget, albeit temporarily, that you’re watching a $767 production. The whole thing clocks in at a decidedly lean 69 minutes, so you never really have a chance to get bored even if we have seen most of this before, and word has it that Snyder is now in the process of shopping this “mini-movie” around to see if he can drum up enough interest (and cash) to essentially re-make it as a true “feature-length” film. I wish him the best, and if he gets it done, what the hell? I’ll more than likely give it a look.

Tell you what, though —  if he goes back to the drawing board and decides to cash in on “Pizzagate” with some kind of “found-footage investigation,” then I’m out. And you should be, too.