Posts Tagged ‘alan moore’

Okay, so normally I pretty much avoid “top 10” lists because I’m sure they’ll make me cringe later — and when it comes to movies there’s probably a few (at least) deserving entries that would flat-out slip my increasingly calcified and deteriorating mind — but ya know, as far as comics go, this year I think I can do it. One caveat, though : since we’re big believers in monthly (or less-than-monthly, as the case may be) “singles” around these parts, the following list is specifically for comic book series, be they of the ongoing or limited-duration variety,  and therefore you will find no graphic novels, digital comics, or anything of the like here, although I should stress that there were any number of absolutely excellent comics that came out last year in those formats — I just wanted my list to reflect my preference for “floppy” books that are serialized in the good, old-fashioned, printed single-issue format. So without any further ado —

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10. Southern Bastards (Jason Aaron/Jason Latour – Image)

The pacing of this series is certainly unique, with the Jasons (Aaron and Latour) going from extended stage-setting in the first arc to a multi-part “origin” of the series’ chief villain in the second to side-steps focusing on supporting characters in the third, but they definitely seem to be building up to something big and memorable in an unconventional, but certainly appealing, way.

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9. The Twilight Children (Gilbert Hernandez/Darwyn Cooke – DC/Vertigo)

Classic Hernandez “location-centric” storytelling peppered with broadly-drawn, memorable characters orbiting around a truly fascinating mystery/supernatural thriller. Cooke’s illustration is, of course, superb.

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8. Tet (Paul Tucker/Paul Allor – IDW/Comics Experience)

The second series produced under the auspices of Comics Experience’s publishing partnership with IDW, Paul Tucker and Paul Allor’s four-parter is the most harrowing and effective meditation on the human cost of war to appear on the comics page in literally a couple of decades. Now available in trade, go out and grab it immediately.

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7. Deadly Class (Rick Rememder/Wes Craig – Image)

Things seem to be heading into Battle Royale territory here, with the exploits of Marcus and his increasingly-fractured circle of former “friends” taking a number of gut-wrenching twists and turns over the course of 2015. Wes Craig’s art gets stronger and more confident with each issue.

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6. Annihilator (Grant Morrison/Frazer Irving – Legendary)

Morrison’s Philip K. Dick-esque mind-fuck script is brought to grand, cosmic life by Irving’s absolutely spectacular art to create a story of personal tragedy played out on a universe-shaking scale. Now out in trade and definitely worth a purchase.

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5. Big Man Plans (Eric Powell/Tim Wiesch – Image)

The most gleefully anti-social and misanthropic book of 2015, this Powell/Wiesch four-part series embraces the most extreme aspects of the grindhouse without remorse or even apology. A visceral wallop to the face that leaves you reeling — and loving every minute of it. The trade’s available now, so do yourself a favor.

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4. Effigy (Tim Seeley/Marley Zarcone – DC/Vertigo)

Seven amazing issues of “reality”TV/celebrity “culture” deconstruction wrapped around a trans-dimensional mystery story that’s been on a “hiatus” since September that I’m increasingly worried may be permanent. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, because Seeley and Zarcone have barely begun to scratch the surface here.

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3. Crossed + One Hundred (Alan Moore/Simon Spurrier/Gabriel Andrade/Fernando Heinz/Rafa Ortiz – Avatar Press)

Moore and Andrade’s initial six-issue story arc was absolutely epic and arguably the best “zombie comic” of all time, and while it took a little while for Simon Spurrier to find his footing as The Bearded One’s successor, he seems to have finally discovered his own voice while remaining true to his predecessor’s “blueprint” of strong “world building” littered with knowing winks in the direction of various genre fiction classics.

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2. Hip Hop Family Tree (Ed Piskor – Fantagraphics Books)

Piskor has “re-purposed” his oversized hardcover cultural history as a monthly series on cheap paper with intentionally-shoddy production values and the end result is a revelation. Yeah, the gigantic volumes are great, but dammit, this is how the series should have been presented all along. A wealth of new material, including “director’s commentary” pages, definitely helps, as well. Worth the “double dip,” without question.

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1.  Providence (Alan Moore/Jacen Burrows – Avatar Press)

No surprise at all for regular readers of my shit, the latest and greatest entry in the Moore/Burrows “Lovecraft Cycle,” now at its halfway point, is shaping up to be the most literate, multi-layered, immersive comics reading experience of the decade, as well as one of the best pure horror comics, well, ever. I’ve written somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 words on the series already, and it’s nowhere near enough, so expect plenty more single-issue reviews for the now-apparently-bimonthly series as 2016 rolls along. If I only had five bucks to my name and the latest issue was coming out, I’d buy Providence and go hungry — it’s just. That. Fucking. Good.

A few final points — while Image certainly dominated the list this year, their two most popular and acclaimed titles, Saga and Sex Criminals, are nowhere to be found here. I felt that both had “off years” and that their currently-running story arcs are definitely not up to previous standards. Saga will most likely rebound, but Sex Criminals is just getting swallowed further and further down into its own self-created rabbit hole and may very well have, pun absolutely intended, shot its wad by this point.

And while we’re on the subject of list domination, I’d be surprised if Image pulls a “repeat” in 2016, to be honest. Not because their line is getting worse, mind you, but because Vertigo is just getting that much better. They came on strong at the tail end of 2015 with their re-launch, but a one-or two-issue sample size just isn’t enough to earn most of these superb new series, like Slash & BurnRed ThornThe Sheriff Of BabylonUnfollowLast Gang In Town, or the latest iteration of Lucifer spots in this year’s top 10. Next year, however, is another matter entirely, and unless these books go to pot, I fully expect Veritgo to be the publisher to beat in 2016.

So — that’s our (alright, my) 2015 list. I’m a little bummed that female creators aren’t better-represented herein, to be sure (Marley Zarcone’s the only one), but hopefully the increased presence of women in the freelancer ranks will continue apace and my list next year — assuming I do one — will be far more gender-balanced. Kelly Sue DeConnick is certainly blazing a heck of a trail with Bitch Planet, and Gail Simone is in top creative form so far on Clean Room, but both of those books fell just outside my rankings this time around. Still, I’m as unpleasantly surprised as anyone that the comics industry is still as depressingly male-dominated as it is.

As far as more pleasant  surprises go, I never thought I’d be putting together a Top 10 list in 2015 that featured Alan Moore twice. If I was doing this in 30 years ago, sure, but apparently Moore is every bit the creative dynamo at age 63 as he was at 33, and so if I had to single out one “creator of the year,” he’d be it. In fact, he’d earn the nod by a country mile. I only wish that more people were actually, ya know, buying his stuff. Providence is selling great for an Avatar book, but it’s still routinely bested on the Diamond charts by even the most tepid and uninspired “Big Two” fare, so if there’s one thing we know about comics heading into 2016, it’s that the overwhelming majority of stuff coming out will still, sorry to say it, suck.

Okay, that’s it for this time around — here’s to happy reading in the year ahead!

 

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Before we delve too deeply into the events depicted in Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence #6, a brief item of housekeeping : in the two-fold interests of time and maintaining the attention of those who are following both this series and my admittedly sporadic reviews of it (one day I really should go back and do write-ups on issues two and three, I suppose, just for the sake of completeness), I’m going to skip over re-hashing the basics in terms of plot set-up, etc. in this and future installments simply because, who are we kidding? If you’re not “on board” with Providence already, odds are very slim indeed that you’ll be jumping on at this point, so it’s fairly safe to assume that anybody reading this right now already knows what the book is all about and anybody who’s reading it, say, a year or two down the road (hi there future! Hope everything’s alright with the world!) is someone who decided to “trade wait” on the series and if they’ve made it this far in, then they, too, will be well familiar with the general particulars of what our guys Alan and Jacen are up to. So no more “Robert Black was a journalist for the fictitious New York Herald who chucked his job to write a novel” and all that.

Besides, with this latest installment we’re really getting into the “meat” of things, anyway — the rumor-shrouded tome that Black has been after, Hali’s Booke (the Providence equivalent to/antecedent of H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon) is finally in his, as they used to say in the ’80s and ’90s, “hot little hands,” and while the overly-eager among us were certain that Herbert West, Reanimator was going to be the HPL “anchor story” at the heart of this issue, Moore has faked us out once again by forcing his stand-in for West, one Hector North, off-stage fairly early on when an unexpected message arrives for him at his heavily-formaldehyde-scented home, the contents of which force him and his hen-pecked boyfriend/assistant to beat a hasty retreat back to Boston. Okay, yeah, the first few pages of this issue take place in West’s home, to be sure, and the scenes that play out there are rife with the sort of “gallows humor” that has been ever-present in this series from the outset, as almost every line spoken is rife with double-and even triple-meanings that will be especially obvious to, and rewarding for, longtime Lovecraft fans, but, once again, the inevitable confrontation with North (errrr, West) has been shunted down the line just a bit.

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That’s okay, though, because not only is what happens here a plenty acceptable substitute for the Reanimator-centric issue that fans have been waiting for, this actually proves to be the chapter of the story  (titled, incidentally, “Out Of Time”) where the storm that’s been brewing slowly since #1 finally begins to break. Where the shit hits the fan. Where Moore starts to pull out all the stops and finally “goes to far,” as he always does, serving up the horror in a manner so shocking, and so thick with import, that you get the distinct feeling that he’s basically daring you to keep going. But first, Hali’s Booke.

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Black decides to tour St. Anselm College (Miskatonic University in all but name) one more time, only to discover that the librarian he’s been expecting to wait a  few more weeks to see has actually returned, which means either that his travels were cut short, or that, more disturbingly, our protagonist has actually been in Manchester a lot longer than he figured. Given that the concept of “nested time” has been breached in the backmatter pages of previous issues, and that time seems to pass differently for Black once he sits down to actually read the contents of the volume he’s been in such single-minded pursuit of (Burrows kills it on the art in the panels depicting the strange fourth-dimensional flow in the library), it’s pretty clear what’s really going on — to all but our ostensible “hero,” of course, who remains as clueless to the nature of events taking place around him, as well as his increasingly-important role within them, as ever. All that’s about to change, though, and in a very big way.

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Perusing through Hali’s Booke is every bit the brain-bomb we’ve all been figuring it would be, but it’s what comes next that shifts Providence into a new, higher, and decidedly more dangerous gear : unnerved from his experience with the book, Black accompanies 13-year-old Elspeth Wade (Providence‘s answer to Asenath Waite from The Thing On The Doorstep, who also walked to the college with him earlier and, indeed, was the bearer of the bad news that sent Dr. North scurrying) back to her rooms in order to “decompress,” only to have the absolutely unimaginable happen to him. And to her, I suppose. But mostly to him. I’ll say no more at this point, and allow the following image to do some of my talking for me:

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So — yeah. It gets worse. Much worse. And here’s where we have to side-step for a bit.

Moore has been criticized over the years for his supposed “over-reliance” on rape and sexual violence in his comics, and this once-tiny “buzz”  reached a veritable crescendo semi-recently due to his aggressive responses to said complaints — responses that saw him engage in a rather heated debate, albeit by proxy, with some of his most vocal detractors and nobody emerging from the conflagration entirely unscathed. On the one hand, the naysayers do have a point : rape was a central event in Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, in Miracleman, in the third volume of The League Of Extraordinary Gentelmen, in From Hell, in Lost Girls, in Neonomicon — it’s a long list. And if you throw in the attempted  rapes in Watchmen  and V For Vendetta, as well as the implied rape in The Killing Joke, well — it gets even longer. But it’s also true that Moore never presents it in a titillating or otherwise-glamorized way. It’s always ugly. It’s always scarring. It’s always unspeakably horrific. And so it is here. But there’s a whole other level going on in Providence #6 that bears a little bit of closer examination, unpleasant as it is. So that’s what we’re going to do next — as well as indulge in a bit of speculation.

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I won’t kid you, friends — much as I admire, respect, and in many ways even fawn over the work of Alan Moore, I do think the man has a bit of a petulant side to him, as his numerous “fallings-out” with various former collaborators can attest to. I have no problem with the big middle finger he’s given to DC, to Hollywood, and to the vast majority of the entertainment industry in general (quite the contrary, in fact — I respect the hell out of him for it), but he has occasionally, in my view, demonstrated a mean, or at the very least ornery, streak . And I think that when he started to catch a certain amount of flak for the sexual violence in his work, even if much of the criticism was off-base in its intent, he took it a bit personally.  His critics poked a bear — and now the bear has poked back. And you’re not gonna win a fight with a bear.

Rather than shying away from ever presenting rape in another one of his comics, Moore has instead decided to give us the most fucked-up, brutal, offensive, soul-searing depiction of rape one could possibly conceive of, and has enlisted H.P. Lovecraft’s The Thing On The Doorstep (which turns out to be the “anchor story” for this particular issue) as his accomplice. It’s all so very darkly ingenious, really — take a story about an evil old bastard who has learned how to live forever by effectively “hijacking” a younger body when he places his own consciousness inside it and forces the old one out (into his dying form), and borrow its central conceit in order to give us the perhaps the most psychologically, and even physically, harrowing scene in horror-comic history. Elspeth Wade, you see, isn’t Elspeth Wade at all. She’s someone far older (keen readers of the Providence backmatter will figure out exactly who “she” is pretty quickly once “she”starts talking), and far more malevolent. Someone who transferred their consciousness first into Elspeth’s father, then into Elspeth herself. And as for where Elspeth “really” is — she’s dead, and has been for some time. But the “person” inhabiting her is still very much up to his old tricks, and puts himself into Black’s body, thereby forcing Black into Elspeth’s, and then rapes her/him. So, yes — a malignant force residing in Black’s body is raping Black’s consciousness as it resides in Elspeth’s body.

Need a minute to take all that in? I don’t blame you. And Black could use a minute himself, as you’d expect — but he isn’t given one, since his assailant quickly “trades back” once the unspeakable deed is done, and “enjoys” a “post-coital” cigarette inside/as Elspeth while Black is left to do the one thing almost anyone would have to do in his situation in order to hope to preserve some tiny fraction of their sanity — run.

The full-scale mind-fuckery isn’t over yet, though, folks, because as Black runs out into the rainy Manchester night, he passes — himself, riding in the car with Jenkins, as depicted at the beginning of Providence #5. And lo and behold, when you open that issue up again and look very closely at the figure running along the side of the road, barely visible through the rain-soaked windscreen, it is, in fact, Robert Black. “Nested time,” remember?

So, yeah — this is getting in-fucking-tense.

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Maybe even too intense for some. If there are folks who throw up their hands and say “I’m out!” after Providence #6 I’m not going to hold that against them. The story is visceral, ugly, hard to stomach, and unforgettable in the truest sense of the term, and Jacen Burrows’ art, while lush and gorgeous, is a velvet glove over an iron fist. This is a comic that lands body blow after body blow and doesn’t let you get up off the mat. It hurts and it hurts and it hurts again.

Still — it’s horror, you know? Shit or get off the pot. We’ve become so you used to comfortable, safe, inconsequential quasi-scares that a true tale of mind-numbing terror almost feels alien at this point. Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows are here to remind us that this shit is supposed to be uncomfortable, maybe even unconscionable. We’re talking about a story where it looks like a 13-year-old girl is being brutally raped — and the reality of what’s happening is actually even worse. I can’t say that I “enjoyed” Providence #6 — but I’m never going to forget it. And there’s no way I’d ever back out of this series now, even though staying with it will almost definitely have consequences — as it should. Love it or loathe it, this is what horror — real horror — is meant to do.

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Let’s take a quick breather from our Netflix horror movie rundown to talk horror comics for just a minute (or, more accurately, several minutes), shall we? After all, man (and woman) cannot live on a diet of celluloid scares alone — even in October — and once in awhile you may just wish to get your chills and thrills via a four-color, printed delivery method. If so, I humbly suggest that there’s no better way for you to go as we approach Halloween 2015 than by plunking down five of your heard-earned dollars for the fifth issue of Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ superb Lovecraftian travelogue, Providence.

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We’ve talked Providence around these parts before, of course — a couple of times, in fact (in fact, I halfway feel like I ought to go back and review issues two and three just to say I’ve covered ’em all) — but as long as it maintains this lofty standard of excellence, I see no harm in bringing it up again. In fact, it’s no exaggeration at all to say that every issue to date has been “the best one so far,” and I’m pleased to report that trend continues here. I have a fairly respectable monthly pull at my LCS, and right now it can easily be broken down into four categories : books that I’ll probably end up dropping sooner rather than later because they suck; books that are okay but that I could easily see myself parting company with because they’re wildly inconsistent at best, and two subpar issues in a row will probably seal their fate; books that are good and that I’ll continue to pick up; and Providence. Honestly, if I only had five extra bucks a month to spend, I’d spend it on this. My monthly Providence fix is starting to become essential to my survival.

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And while that may sound pathetic, I assure you that the comic itself is anything but. For those who are reasonably steeped in the lore of H.P. Lovecraft, like myself, this is the series we’ve been waiting our whole lives for and just didn’t know it, while for more casual readers it can serve as a springboard into a hitherto-unexplored literary world that will immediately arrive on your doorstep with a tremendous amount of breadth, depth, and resonance thanks to the million-and-one clever ways Moore has woven core aspects of Lovecraft’s ever-fluid mythos into his sprawling, multi-faceted narrative. One thing’s for certain, though : whatever your prior “Lovecraft immersion level,” this comic is going to creep you the fuck out and keep you glued to its pages. I’ve read every issue at least a half-dozen times so far, and frankly am looking forward to getting this review over with so that I can read number five again.providence05-women

Do I really want to do that, though? Chances are that once I do, I’ll notice any number of little details that I missed last time around, and that will have me scurrying back to these virtual “pages” to hastily edit this review and mention them all before I feel like an idiot for omitting them. Some comics hold up fine on second, third, and subsequent re-readings, but Providence flat-out demands them — and gets better each time.

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For those unfamiliar with the basic set-up, I suppose a quick run-down is in order : journalist Robert Black has recently quit his job at the New York Herald in order to track down a Necronomicon-esque ancient tome that he hopes will be of assistance as he researches material for his slowly-developing novel about America’s secret underbelly, and has taken up the trail of the volume through a number of , shall we say, dinstinctive rural New England backwaters. He meets various and sundry bizarre personages along the way — variations of whom will all play a role in later Lovecraft fictions — and remains semi-blissfully unaware of the obvious-to-us-readers connections between them and the part he will no doubt play in tying all their stories together. In short, he’s as important as he is clueless, and seems more concerned with protecting his own secrets (the largest ones being that he’s gay and Jewish) along the way than he is in puzzling out the ones presented to him in plain sight.

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Each issue to date has seen one Lovecraft story serve as its major “anchor,” while dropping in plenty of knowing winks and nods toward others, and number five is no exception, with The Dreams in The Witch House playing the largest role in the proceedings, but characters, plot elements, and themes from The Rats In The WallsThe Colour Out Of SpaceIn The Walls Of EryxThe Thing On The Doorstep, and Herbert West – Reanimator all weaving their way into the web of  strangeness surrounding Black, as well. If you happen to have any or all of these stories at your disposal, keep them handy — if not, don’t sweat it too much,  because you’re still in for a heady, intoxicatingly good read.

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Our protagonist’s travels this time out  take him to St. Anselm’s college in Machester, New Hampshire, where he’s got a couple of weeks to kill before he can arrange a viewing of the book he’s determined to scope out, so he rents a headache-inducing, oddly-angled attic room at a boarding house during the forced interregnum, making the acquaintance of a nowhere-near-as-simple-as-she-seems landlady, a cab driver who’s always there when you need him (and especially when you don’t), a “fellow traveler” who “helps out” in some unspecified manner in the university’s medical department, a precocious 15-year-old girl, a perhaps-too-helpful priest, and a federal agent investigating a decades-old meteorite crash while he bides his time.

That’s just during the daytime hours, though, and it’s at night when the real weirdness in Manchester goes down.

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Don’t get the wrong idea — there’s no real crazy nightlife to be found in 1919 New England college towns (hell, there probably still isn’t much today), but Black”s been having some decidedly odd dreams since he took out his rented room, and they’re getting worse. Dreams about rats with human faces. Dreams about witches speaking horrifying secrets about the nature of the universe that the conscious mind can’t comprehend. Dreams about odd geometric angles that cause one plane of existence to intersect with another. Dreams about being watched by presences he can’t even define, much less see. Dreams about time folding back in on itself (which Moore mirrors in the dialogue boxes at the bottom of each page). Dreams that eventually send him running from the house in the middle of the night and over to the residence of Dr. Hector North, whose home reeks oddly of formaldehyde —

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Where to begin with all the details to be on the lookout for here? Moore and Burrows are throwing them at readers so fast that you really can’t afford to miss a beat, beginning with the tiny figure running through the rain in page one, panel one, and continuing throughout. A favorite of mine is paying close attention to which panels are hand-ruled and slightly uneven and which are straight-ruled and perfectly symmetrical. I won’t give away what that denotes, but once you figure it out for yourself, you’ll be all “damn — that’s genius, that is.”

And yes, despite the fact that we’re not even at the halfway point of this 12-issue series yet, I don’t think it’s too early to call Providence a work of genius. Moore is gradually building up all the elements in his story and moving his chess pieces into almost agonizingly-precise locations, while Burrows is deftly mixing in reams of visual clues and hammering all the horror home with his finely-detailed, richly-realized illustrations. Both gentlemen are in top form and operating at the peak of their skills, and if you’re one of those who’s been waiting for “the next great Alan Moore comic,” well — here it is.

So, what could be better than this? It’s hard to say, but something tells me that we’ll all be finding out on October 28th, when Avatar releases Providence #6 — just in time, of course, for Halloween. How perfect is that, I ask you?

 

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Not so long ago — in fact, just last week, if memory serves me correctly — we did a mini-round-up of reviews of films based (sometimes quite loosely) on the works of H.P. Lovecraft in honor of his 125th birthday, and while I didn’t think I’d be re-visiting the world of so-called “Lovecraftiana” again nearly so soon, when Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence #4 hit comics shops yesterday I simply had to, given that it’s based so heavily on The Dunwich Horror , the 1970 celluloid version of which I almost-literally just did a little write-up on . Soooooo — since I figured it would be worth delving into these murky backwaters one more time to have a closer look at just how this four-color printed story differs from its literary and cinematic step-siblings, let’s get our hands dirty, shall we?

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For those of you who have been following Providence from the outset — for shame! — the format is deceptively simple : in 1919,  recently-resigned newspaperman Robert Black (who leads something of a double life in that he’s secretly gay and secretly Jewish) is trying to put together his own idea of “The Great American Novel,” one based loosely on the intriguing conceit that there is a “secret country” hidden beneath the public face of the United states, and is following up on the whereabouts of a tome of occult lore that he hopes will point him in the right direction for his literary endeavors. Every issue sees him come into contact with strange situations and characters that Lovecraft fans will immediately recognize as being featured in the author’s works, and it’s fairly obvious that at some point Lovecraft is going to either encounter Black himself or stumble across his notes and will extrapolate his fictions from him/them accordingly. Fun little “side clues” are dropped in along the way that tie into other stories of his, but by and large one famous Lovecraft yarn features as the “backbone” for each chapter, with issue one taking most of its cues from Cool Air,  issue two delving into The Horror At Red Hook,  issue three fleshing out the supposedly “real” story behind The Shadow Over Innsmouth, etc. At the beginning of issue four, Black is in the “company town” of Athol, Massachusetts, which served as the real-life basis for The Dunwich Horror, so you know from the outset which way things are headed here. And if you’re still unsure, well —  by the time our protagnoist meets the inbred branch of the  Wheatley family tree a few pages in, there’s no more room for guesswork.

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These Wheatleys are, of course, the basis for the (alright, equally) fictional Whateleys in Lovecraft’s story, and while the first three segments of Providence have certainly come up trumps in the “creepy” department, things definitely take a turn for the overtly horrific this time out as the nature of isolated country living in the early part of the last century comes to the fore. Let’s just say that when there was no one else around to fuck, a lot of folks simply made do with who was nearby.

Maintaining the “purity” of one’s genetic stock was, of course, a particular obsession with the eugenics-crazed Lovecraft, and as anyone who’s read Smax knows, inbreeding is a topic that Moore has explored in the past with suitably cringe-worth results, as well, so if you’re going to base a contemporary horror comic around the love that damn well better not speak its name, these two are probably your best choices to serve as guides, so — I dunno. Congratulations, I guess, to Messrs. Moore and Lovecraft both for being the perfect autors to tell a story based on this admittedly nauseating premise.

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And yeah, if there’s one thing Providence #4 can definitely claim to be, it’s nauseating. And I mean that as a sincere compliment, since making the reader uncomfortable is the whole point of good horror. Black cottons on to the fact that there’s literally no one else who could be the father of monstrous Willard Wheatley (or, as he’s known in the story and on the silver screen, Wilbur Whateley) than his own grand-pappy, Garland, and while his mother, Lavinia,  was confined to a lunatic asylum in the film version, here poor, uneducated, albino (and quite likely inbred herself) Leticia still lives at home with her father, and spends most of her time attempting to piece together in her feeble mind exactly what the hell happened to her the night she was impregnated in 1912. Lovecraft hints at it The Dunwich Horror, but Moore drops all pretense here and rips the curtain of “literary respectability” away most violently indeed. Let’s just say it’s not a reading experience designed with the faint of heart in mind.

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For us sick fucks, though, it borders on the flat-out revelatory. Needless to say there’s a lot more than a simple dip into the family gene pool going on here, and there’s good reason why Willard is a hulking full-grown ape of a man (the issue is titled “White Apes,” another Lovecraft reference for those who care to do the requisite leg-work) who can apparently fuse glass cubes together with his bare hands in order to form tesseracts, which presumably come in handy in his family’s more unconventional spare-time activities. And yeah, if molesting your own daughter is more “conventional” than the other shit they’re up to, it’s safe to say that the Wheatleys are into some far-out stuff —oh, by the way, has anyone seen Wilbur’s invisible sibling, John -Divine?

Silly me, of course not — I just said he’s invisible (at least to us). But his presence looms very large in this story, to put it mildly. I think I’ll leave it at that.

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Moore takes the occasion of Providence #4 to make some spot-on criticisms of the elitism running rampant through the occult secret society that Garland and his clan have been unceremoniously booted from, and shines a pretty glaring light on the prejudices of the time (including those shared by Lovecraft himself), but it doesn’t feel too terribly heavy-handed given that the characters we’re directed to have sympathy for are engaged in some odious and twisted activities themselves, so maybe at the end of the day it’s fair to say that this is a story with no real “good guys” — especially considering what a self-absorbed — and frankly clueless — ass-hat Black himself comes off as being in the issue’s always-fascinating-and-necessary backmatter.

Top it all off with Jacen Burrows’ increasingly- confident and richly-detailed art (seriously, this guy’s going to be a superstar artist for “The Big Two” one of these days — assuming he’s interested), some intriguing hints as to where things are going in terms of the overall narrative (as an aside, it took me a few passes through to figure out what, exactly, was being depicted on page one of this issue, but once I did — wow), and what you’ve got here is a thoroughly masterful “re-imagining” of a timeless horror classic that certainly rewards multiple re-readings and re-mystifies Lovecraft’s original work by, ironically, de-mysifying its ugly underbelly for all to see.

I certainly had a damn good time watching Daniel Haller’s 1970 film adaptation of The Dunwich Horror again for the first time in many years (who can argue with Dean Stockwell’s turn as Wilbur?), but as far as “revisionist Lovecraft” goes, right now Providence is in a class by itself, and issue #4 is the strongest one yet — even if it requires an equally strong stomach.

 

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H.P. Lovecraft would have turned 125 years old the other day, and given that Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence has proven to be the impetus for the biggest “Lovecraft kick”  I’ve experienced since high school, I figured, what the hell? Why not mark the occasion by reviewing a few Lovecraft-inspired flicks over the next handful of days? And given that pretty much everybody has seen the Stuart Gordon/Brian Yuzna productions of Re-AnimatorFrom Beyond and Dagon (my personal favorite of the bunch), we’ll avoid those and try instead to zero in on a few celluloid Lovecraft adaptations that are easy enough to find, but that haven’t been seen by many apart from seriously hard-core fans.

First up is legendary B-movie auteur Albert Pyun’s ultra-low-budget, shot-on-HD-videocam 2006 take on Lovecraft’s Cool Air, a film that is, admittedly,  tempting to dismiss before even seeing it simply because any movie that sits unreleased on a shelf for seven years before quietly being dumped out on DVD (and DVD only, I might add — no Blu-ray for this one) is probably bound to not be all that good, right? LionsGate, who owns the rights to this number, surely would have seen fit to get it into the hands of fans sooner if they’d felt it was worth the effort to do so, wouldn’t they? I mean, anything shot this cheaply (IMDB lists the budget at being just over $1.5 million, but watching the film it’s hard to see where most of that went) that has Lovecraft’s name attached to it in any capacity whatsoever is bound to at least break even, wouldn’t you think?

Well, evidently the suits at LGF disagreed, and let Pyun’s filmed-entirely-in-one-house opus gather dust until 2013 — which was when, I’m guessing, some catalogue- and -archiving intern stumbled across it and reminded his or her bosses that, hey, we’ve still got this thing sitting here and we may as well do something with it. So they did.

Actually, that’s not what happened at all — the film’s original production company (a one-and-done outfit composed of Pyun himself and a couple of financiers)  sat on it until 2012, trying to figure out how best to get the thing out there, and ended up entering it into the 2012 Las Vegas Grindhouse and Horror Film Festival, where it was something of a minor hit, then LionsGate picked it up for home video release the next year (it’s also available streaming online for $2.99, which is how I caught it). But dammit, I like my version of the story better.

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To be brutally frank, things  don’t appear too promising at first here, with what has to be the one of the dullest extended opening-credit sequences I’ve ever been forced to sit through (in fairness, the “run snippets from the movie you just watched with the actors’ names underneath” that rolls at the end is probably even worse, though — that didn’t even work well in ’80s “ensemble” comedies, why would it fare any better in a low-key horror flick with a grand total of five cast members?), but if you can stay awake through that, the good news is that once events (finally) start rolling, this is actually a pretty faithful adaptation that has a lot going for it.

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Now, if you’ve actually seen this thing, this is the point at which you’re probably going to stop dead in your tracks and question my sanity. Allow me to paraphrase what’s likely  going through your mind : “Faithful adaptation? Are you nuts? The story’s been moved to the present day, it’s set in Malibu, and the the main ‘villain,’ Dr. Munoz, has been gender-swapped for a female character named Dr. Shockner! Shit, the 20-minute adaptation Rod Serling did of this story on Night Gallery is more faithful than that!”

Okay, fair enough — on paper, the story of a down-and-out Hollywood screenwriter named Charlie Baxter (played by Morgan Weisser) who’s lost his apartment and has to rent a room in a “McMansion” from a secretive landlady (Wendy Phillips) who has a couple of secretive tenants (a former Disney animator named, believe it or not, Deltoid, who’s played by Norbert Weisser, and the aforementioned Dr. Shockner, who’s played by Crystal Green) bears only a passing resemblance to Lovecraft’s original premise, but Weisser’s voice-over narration directly lifts huge passages from the story verbatim, and really, those cosmetic changes are about the only major difference on offer here, apart from the whole-cloth invention of a character named Estella (Virginia Dare), who’s the landlady’s autistic daughter. In terms of overall theme and tone, though,  Pyun and screenwriter Cynthia Curnan get things more or less exactly right, and in the end, isn’t that what counts?

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Any film with production values this abysmally- low-by-dint-of-necessity is going to have its problems, of course — visually, the flick is dull as un-buttered toast, and a visible boom mic during a scene that has no dialogue whatsoever is jarring to say the least, but you know how things work around these parts : we’re generally a pretty forgiving bunch. On the whole the acting is actually pretty good apart from Weisser being asked to have one of the least-convincing heart attacks ever committed to film (or, in this case, to tape), and Green in particular is flat-out superb in a role very few established actors could make a go of, namely that of a classic Lovecraftian amoral semi-monster re-interpreted as a MILF (and damn, her voice just oozes sex appeal), so it really does appear that everyone is giving their all here for a production that, let’s not beat around the bush, hardly demands any such professionalism. Also, it’s worth pointing out that, purists be damned, most of those “cosmetic changes” I just droned on about in Curnan’s screenplay actually work and go some way towards making the dated concepts at the core of Lovecraft’s yarn relevant to a modern audience. Let’s face it : these days you can find an air conditioner that will keep your room below 55 degrees at all times, which is exactly what Dr. Munoz required in the original story, so that whole “crazy-contraption-that-runs-on-ammonia” thing just isn’t going to fly with folks unfamiliar with the, to use a term I fucking hate, “source material.” Some sort of updating was very much in order here, and while this Cool Air may deviate here and there from what’s on the printed page, it does so not in a way that corrupts or trashes the story, but rather brings it into the modern era with its soul intact.

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Now, obviously, this being 2015, it’s pretty hard to talk Lovecraft without talking Providence, and yes, the short story as originally scripted features prominently in the first issue of Moore and Burrows’ ongoing masterwork (is it too early to call it that? I think not). Pyun and his small crew can’t compete with that, it’s true. But they’ve also got a budget — and a very tight one at that — to work within. The comics page has no such restrictions (nor does the imagination of Alan Moore). Cool Air does what it can with what it has, and manages to squeeze a lot of blood from a rock. It’s far from stylish, far from flashy, and in many technical respects it’s fair to say it’s even far from competent — but it’s still good. What more can you ask than that?

Next up : we keep the Lovecraft train rolling with a look at 1970’s The Dunwich Horror — which is streaming on Netflix right now if you want to catch it in advance of my review. Hope to see you back here in a few days!

 

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Fair warning : there are a few key “spoilers” ahead — not just for Crossed + One Hundred, but for Southern Bastards and The Wicked + The Divine, as well — so if you’re not completely caught up on any of these books, skip the seventh paragraph following this one, pick up again at the tenth, and you’ll be in good shape. Got that? Okay, my conscience is clear.

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A little while back, I reviewed the first issue of Alan Moore and Gabriel Andrade’s Crossed + One Hundred from Avatar Press, and I’m not sure how many of you took my advice and jumped on-board with it, but I’m guessing it must not have been a very big number because my inbox hasn’t been flooded with emails from random strangers thanking me for turning them onto this series (although I did receive one, which I appreciate) and, frankly, there’s just no way I’d be confronted with that sort of “radio silence” if folks had heeded my words.

I  say that with full confidence because, now that the book’s initial six-issue run in over (which is all that it had originally been slated to go for, but apparently sales have been good enough that Avatar has picked it up as a monthly ongoing, with Si Spurrier taking over the writing duties from Moore as of issue #7), it’s safe to label this first “story arc” of Crossed + One Hundred as far and away the best goddamn post-apocalyptic “zombie comic” ever.

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Trust me when I say that I don’t throw a compliment that all-encompassing down lightly — I only do it because Moore and Andrade have unquestionably earned it. Seriously — those who are still picking up The Walking Dead on a monthly basis (or even my beloved Empire Of The Dead) and are also reading this know that there’s just no comparison. To put things as plainly as possible, every other four-color exploration of the “undead plague” is hollow, one-dimensional stuff when judged by the standards set by Crossed + One Hundred. Robert Kirkman has been fleshing out his post-zombie-apocalypse world for, what? A decade now? And he still hasn’t put as much thought into the hows and whys of humanity’s survival as Moore obviously has here. To use a cliche, this is “next level” stuff — from the mutated language, to the makeshift technology, to the new attitudes toward sex, to the fundamental changes to basic morality itself — and the damned thing is, when you sit down and think about it for a minute, it all makes perfect sense.

Consider : if you woke up tomorrow and found yourself transported to a world that was a century removed from a civilization-destroying “extinction event,” one with no more television and radio broadcasting much less an internet, what do you think the most valuable commodity would be? Knowledge. Specifically. knowledge of the past. And where would you find such knowledge? Books. The printed page would be your only lifeline to what came before, and would be essential not only for learning  how we came to find ourselves where we are, but for understanding what culture itself really was, and what it meant — valuable information indeed in a world where only a vague approximation of it still exists, and has been developed entirely on the basis of necessity rather than choice.

Let’s take it a step further. With no more movies and TV, what would humans do for fun? Well, there’s always fucking, and in a makeshift “society” where the shit’s already hit the fan and day-to-day survival is far from a guaranteed prospect, would archaic notions of purely “homo” and “hetero” sexuality still exist (assuming they were ever relevant for anything beyond social control in the first place)? Would people still refrain from talking about sex in “polite” company? Hell — would there even be such a thing as “polite” company, given that the forefathers and foremothers of the small number of people still around would have to have been a pretty hard-assed bunch?

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Moore has fully developed all of these various hypotheticals in his mind, and that’s a key difference between Crossed + One Hundred and every other zombie comic (or, for that matter, zombie movie or zombie TV show) out there. But notice I said “a” key difference, and not “the” key difference —that’s because, there’s one other, and it’s the most brazen, “balls-y” thing you’ve come across in some time. Sit tight, and I’ll explain.

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The “bait and switch” is a common tactic in today’s comic book landscape — in Jason Aaron and Jason Latour’s Southern Bastards, the guy we thought was our protagonist gets killed at the end of issue #4, and the book’s next “arc” gave us a four-part story about the series’ chief villain, while over in the pages of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine, our lead character makes it all the way to issue # 12 before being killed off (in spectacular fashion, and right after her greatest wish came true) and the narrative shifting gears to — well, I don’t rightly know where that book is headed now (although I remain curious to find out). In issue #5 of Crossed + One Hundred, though, Moore does his peers (okay, fair enough, perhaps Alan Moore doesn’t really have any “peers”) one better by pulling the whole conceptual framework of what we’ve been reading out from under us and letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that this book was never about humanity’s survival at all — not matter how much rich detail he poured into it — but about the survival of the so-called “Crossed,” and about how all of our efforts were as naught compared to theirs.

How fundamental a shift is this? Not to put things too lightly, but also not wanting to give too much else away in terms of “spoilers,” I’ll say only this much — it turns out that it was their world all along, we were just ignorant and/or arrogant enough to believe that it was ours. Moore then doubles down on the impact of this revelation by allowing his protagonist, archivist Future Taylor, to survive (along with some, but not all, of her supporting “crew”), but what does that even mean when confronted with the reality that, in Ms. Taylor’s own words, “I didn’t know we were all just wishful fiction”?

And that, friends, is how you pull off a “bait and switch” with intelligence and meaning and raise it above the level of mere storytelling contrivance. The climactic sixth issue plays out more or less exactly the way we believe it will know that we know the “Crossed” are intelligent, and that they’ve spent a century absorbing the “teachings” of an honest-to-God serial killer and planning their revenge on humanity, which is to say — it’s an absolute fucking nightmare. But it’s a nightmare that matters and has impact beyond just the visceral (although Gabriel Andrade does visceral like nobody’s business — but more on him in a second) because Moore has fleshed out his post-doomsday world so well.

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Of course, any script this detailed needs art equal to the task, and damn, Andrade sure has proven to be the right guy for the job here. Every wildly varying scenario he’s tasked with detailing — from a Muslim colony in Appalachia (of all places) to a “Crossed” encampment made from  skulls and bones is rendered in exquisitely-realized detail, and his characters all look like distinctly unique people who have weathered a hell of a lot in their time on this planet. He’ll be continuing with the series when Spurrier takes over, and that’s very good news indeed not only for the sake of visual contnuity, but because  he’s firmly established himself as an artist worth following.

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And speaking of following — when it comes to Crossed + One Hundred, I’ll be doing just that. Spurrier’s got some big shoes to fill, and only time will tell whether or not Avatar’s decision to continue this comic proves to be a wise one, but, if you’ll permit me to adopt the language of our post-plague survivors for a moment, I’m going to keep on opsying this wishful fiction because these first six issues were fuck movie.

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Fellow comics readers — do you remember that feeling of being in on the ground floor of something not just great, but truly monumental? Folks who were around for Fantastic Four #1 and the dawn of the so-called “Marvel Age Of Comics” talk about it a lot. As do those who picked up Jack Kirby’s New Gods #1 on the newsstands (even though, technically speaking, the Fourth World mythos had already been introduced to the world in the pages of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen). Members of my generation felt it when we grabbed book one of Frank Miller’s  The Dark Knight Returns  and, just a handful of months later, Watchmen #1 , hot off the comic store shelves in the annus mirabilis of 1986.

It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? But I promise you this much :  here,  in 2015, it’s happening again — finally. I just hope somebody’s paying attention.

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For some time now, Alan Moore has been piecing together a cycle of stories based around themes and concepts from the works of H.P. Lovecraft that’s been flying well beneath the radar for a number of reasons — chief among them being, most likely, that they’re being put out by small independent publisher Avatar Press. First came The Courtyard, a one-shot based on Moore’s short prose story of the same name that was adapted into comics form by writer Antony Johnston and artist Jacen Burrows. This was followed up a few years later with The Neonomicon, a four-part mini-series directly from the pen of Moore himself with Burrows returning to handle the artistic reigns. By this point a small “buzz” was starting to form around the work, but Moore lost a lot of readers along the way due to the brutal, uncompromising, and frankly ugly nature of the story — which included, among other things, a protracted and decidedly disturbing rape sequence that’s as hard to stomach on its tenth reading as it is on its first.

Which is kind of the point, I would suppose, in the same way that the lengthy and uncomfortable violation of the heroine in I Spit On Your Grave absolutely should be difficult to sit through because without it, the third act of the film —  centering on her revenge —  would lose most of its power. You’re more likely to stick  through a film that you’ve already bought a ticket for, though, than you are to keep picking up a serialized comic book story that demands a fresh four bucks from you every month, and so it came to pass that a good many people opted out of The Neonomicon before Moore and Burrows had finished telling their tale. For my part, I did ride it out, but I’d only give it a very qualified recommendation — if you appreciate being challenged and you have a strong stomach, then you won’t exactly “enjoy” the series, but you certainly will appreciate its narrative power. For what it’s worth, even Moore himself has admitted that he probably went too far with it and that he wasn’t exactly in the most positive space mentally and emotionally when he wrote it.

But hey, it’s a new day, and what better way for Moore to wrap up his loose “Lovecraft cycle” than with a new 12-part series, Providence, that promises to be his most ambitious work in the comics medium in far too long? Avatar’s own extended promotional blurb for the series calls it “the Watchmen of horror,” and while I would contend that a good number of Moore’s post-Watchmen projects actually surpass, in terms of their scope, themes, and even ambition,  the book for which both he and Dave Gibbons will probably always be known best (Promethea, anyone? The League Of Extraordinary GentlemenFrom Hell? The almost criminally-underappreciated Supreme?) , the fact is that none of those admittedly remarkable projects arrived with the immediate, transformational “thud” that Watchmen  itself did. None stated their intentions as immediately or staked out their turf with the same level of bravado. I’d certainly argue that some — maybe even all — were better than Watchmen by the time they were finished, but none of them were as hell-bent on pushing the comics form itself into a new future, given that they were all a by-product of (or, in the case of Supreme, a direct answer to) the new, more “grown-up” landscape that Watchmen had left in its wake.

Thirty years later, I’d say we’re more than ready for the next leap forward, wouldn’t you? Providence seems to be all about propelling comics in general — and horror comics in particular — into a more considered, literary direction, and while Moore has certainly been doing his level best on that front for some time, the self-contained nature of this narrative (more on that in a moment), as well as its promise to be on time month in and month out (given that it’s already scripted and drawn in its entirety) should lend itself well to the task. There’s a palpable sense of magnitude apparent from panel one, page one here that you just can’t fake. Providence is all about setting the bar for other works, and other creators, to measure up to.

Which might seem funny, I suppose, given that most of the first issue is taken up with people just sitting around and talking. Our protagonist, newspaperman Robert Black, hangs around in the office of his publisher one summer day in 1919 trying to come up with ideas for a space-filler story. Having hit (with some assistance from his colleagues) on an idea, he then proceeds to interview the subject for the piece, one Dr. Alvarez, at his apartment. Then he goes back to work.

It all sounds terribly exciting, doesn’t it? Of course not — but Providence is all about what’s going on beneath the surface. Dr. Alvaraez even mentions this explicitly, talking about how all of us have so many secrets that there is an entire “secret nation” that exists just beneath the surface of the one we see, and that we actually live in both. It’s a staggeringly powerful idea, and undeniably true — it’s also one hell of an effective story “hook.”

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Time for some props to the artist. Jacen Burrows has spent the past two years illustrating this comic, and it shows in every furrowed brow, wrinkle in a character’s suit, and line in their hand. This is amazingly, almost agonizingly, detailed artwork, and looking at reference photos of 1919 New York City in comparison to his panels, you see that he hasn’t missed a beat. To his credit, though, there’s none of the lifelessness here that accompanies other such heavily-referenced work done by less skilled hands. Yes, his art here is accurate and clinical, but it also has a tremendous amount of personality to it and is in no way lifeless or cold.

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What is cold, though — damn cold, in fact! — is Dr. Alvarez’s apartment (as seen above). The good doctor suffers from some sort of unspecified medical ailment that requires him to remain in very frigid temperatures at all times — temperatures achieved by an ammonia-based cooling system for his home that’s probably not unlike heavy-grade industrial refrigeration. Welcome to one of many historical “wrinkles” that clues us in to the fact that this is not 1919 America as we know it. The “suicide parlor,” where people who wish to exit this world in a safe, clean, relaxed manner (a terrific idea, by the way) is another hint.

And that brings us back to the “self-contained” nature of the story here. Avatar is quick to point out that while Providence functions as “both sequel and prequel” to The Courtyard and The Neonomicon  (therefore pulling “double-duty” already), it’s also completely hermetically sealed and operates by rules, logic, and premises that are entirely its own. If you’ve read those other two comics, you’ll invariably get more out of this one, but it’s not necessary in the least to have done so.

Likewise, if you’ve read a fair amount of Lovecraft, you’re sure to have a richer, more meaningful reading experience here, but it’s in no way a prerequisite to have read any to fully understand what’s happening in these pages. Ditto for the work of Robert W. Chambers, whose seminal story collection The King In Yellow — massively referenced in this first issue — was a tremendous influence on Lovecraft and provided the starting point for the entire “Yellow Mythos” that a number of writers have added to over the years. It was Chambers, in fact, who first posited the “suicide parlor” or “exit garden” idea, and so it’s clear that the world of Providence is one in which the author’s ideas are not only more well-known than they are in our “real” world, but have even —at least in some instances — come to pass.

It’s entirely likely that the comparison to Watchmen the publisher makes is based on this detailed,  multi-textual approach that Moore is taking with  his story in Providence. Every time you re-read that classic work of super-hero deconstruction, you’re virtually guaranteed to notice several things you didn’t previously. It reveals more the deeper you go into it, and the same is undoubtedly true of the first issue here. It keeps plenty of secrets, to be sure — the identity of Black’s former lover being the biggest — but upon subsequent re-explorations, you come to see that they’re all deliciously hidden in plain view. A fully-annotated version of this book would be welcome at some point — but not just yet. As with any comic where Moore is firing on all cylinders — as certainly seems to be the case here — piecing together things for yourself is a big part of the fun, and at times can even be flat-out revelatory.

It seems to me that’s where Moore still leaves both his contemporaries, as well as those who have followed in his stead, waaaaayyyy back in the dust. Rather than just telling a story, he fully engages the reader as a near-equal partner in the process along with himself and the artist. If you’re willing to put in the work, you’re going to arrive at so many possible readings of the text that whatever you up believing the “truth” of  it to be will be a matter of completely individual interpretation. While most comics, films, novels, etc. are able to content themselves merely with telling a good — or even passable — story, Moore has always aimed for something greater; to use his stories as a map for helping you find your own. I can’t wait to see where Providence takes me — and, perhaps even more importantly, where  take it.

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Hey, look — I’m with you. I never thought this was gonna happen,  either, much less under circumstances this bizarre — and yet last week, at my local comic shop, there it was — Miracleman #1. And bearing the Marvel Comics imprint, no less.

My enthusiasm for seeing this material back in print for the first time in forever was tempered somewhat by Joe Quesada’s truly awful cover, which makes Miracelman/Marvelman look flat-out fucking evil, but beyond that, I gotta admit, finding this on the new release racks was definitely a “pinch me, I must be dreaming” moment.

The story particulars first, then, for those of you unfamiliar with the proceedings — Miracleman is, as you’ve probably surmised by now, the same thing as Marvelman, a uniquely British riff on Captain Marvel/Shazam! created by UK comics legend Mick Anglo at the height of Cold War atomic unease that was resurrected by a young-at-the-time writer named Alan Moore and artist Garry Leach in the pages of the legendary, incredibly-short-lived anthology series Warrior at the advent of Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power — a time, not conicidentally, of even more atomic unease. As one of the first of the “revisionist” super-hero strips, it achieved instant notoriety for its challenging and timely content, and when Moore skyrocketed to prominence in the US thanks to his groundbreaking work on  Swamp Thing and Watchmen, American publishers suddenly got very interested in exposing stateside audiences to this material ASAP.

There were just a few hang-ups, though. And that’s where our admittedly brief story recap ends (honestly, if you haven’t read this stuff before, the less you know the better since it’s best to experience its majesty with no pre-conceived ideas going on — and if you have read it, well, you know what you’re in for, and why you absolutely need to read it again) and our examination of various behind-the-scenes machinations begins.

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The copyright arrangements behind Marvelman (as it was only known prior to 1985) were complex, to say the least, but here’s what it boils down to — 1/3 of the ownership of the character was held by Quality Communications, the original publishers of the comic, 1/3 was held by Moore, as current (at the time) “caretaker” of the property, and 1/3 was held by the company that eventually was granted US publishing rights, Eclipse Comics. Make sense so far? Good. Because things are about to get even more convoluted.

Moore’s run was unfinished when Eclipse picked the book up, Warrior having folded up shop a few years previously, so the first arrangement to be made was for him to finish his story, which he did — along with artists Rick Veitch and John Totleben, who did positively lavish  work. It took 16 intermittently-published issues, and the better part of a decade, for Moore to complete his epic (a term, I assure you, that I do not use lighlty) and then the reigns were handed over to Neil Gaiman, who wrote a six-part story entitled “The Golden Age,” superbly illustrated by Mark Buckingham, That 1/3 copyright ownership Moore held? That went to Gaiman as well with, by all accounts, no fuss and no muss.

Then things got complicated  — again. Two issues into Gaiman and Buckingham’s second run, “The Silver Age,” Eclipse finally went the way of most independent publishers in the late-’80s/early-’90s and gave up the ghost. As a result, Miracleman, as it was then more widely known (more on all that in a moment) was left unfinished — for a second time.

And so things have remained for just over 20 years.

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Most of us figured this was one of those projects destined to remain in limbo forever, and the only way to read this material would be too pay top dollar for back issues, either on eBay or, if we were real lucky, at our LCS (don’t hold your breath) — but demand remained constant, and sometime in the last year or so, the weirdest possible breakthrough of all happened.  But first we need to backtrack one more time to provide even further context.

Ever wonder why Alan Moore refused, from day one, to ever work for Marvel’s US arm? The answer goes back to the first attempts to bring Marvelman to these shores. Marvel, you see, had major problems with the character’s name, even though it had been around since the 1950s with nary a word of protest from their UK division. In fact, at first they threatened legal action to prevent Eclipse re-printing the Warrior material at all, much less continue the story with new chapters once the old stuff had run its course. The solution : Eclipse simply changed our erstwhile hero’s name to “Miracleman,” and the rest is history. But Moore never forgot, and consequently held a deep antipathy toward Marvel that, bless his heart, remains in full force to this day. So much so, in fact, that he’s requested to have his name removed from these new Marvel reprints and the credits merely read “Written By The Original Author” instead. Say what you will for Moore, but the man never compromises his principles, and for that he deserves our heartiest congratulations.

But how did Marvel end up with the publication rights at this late date in the first place? Well, I did hint about an unlikely “breakthrough” just a moment ago —

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Gaiman, now apparently 2/3 rights-holder of the property with Eclipse out of the picture, is reported to have cut a deal with the self-proclaimed “House Of Ideas” at about the same time that he sold he and Todd McFarlane’s rights to the Angela character (originally from Spawn, now appearing in Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy) to not only publish all extant Miracleman material,  but to finally finish his “Silver Age” storyline, as well. And so the character Marvel tried their damndest to prevent from ever seeing the light of day in the US is now in their stable, and while Moore might be less than thrilled about it, he hasn’t uttered a word of complaint publicly, just quietly asked to have his name excised from the project. Fair enough.

All of which means that, whether we’re new to this book or not, we’re all in for a wild ride. Miracleman starts a bit rough on the story front — Moore doesn’t really find his footing until a few issues in — but the art, whether by Leach, Veitch, Totleben, or Buckingham, is uniformly exquisite, and once the narrative gets going, trust me when I say it really gets going. This is a series that honestly rivals Watchmen in terms of sheer impact, and does so much more lyrically, poetically, and hauntingly. It’s quite simply one of the best comics ever made by anyone, period.

Marvel’s first issue boasts a fair number of “extras,” as well, to help justify its hefty $5.99 price tag — look for extensive backstory, an interview with creator Mick Anglo, and reprints of some early B&W Anglo stories among other goodies. All in all, an impressive package to commemorate a genuinely historic return. I’m over the moon, friends, and once you start picking this title up — assuming you haven’t already — you will be, as well. Get to your comic shop — now! KIMOTA!

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Now that I think about it, maybe this isn’t right at all. Maybe I should reserve the “Animation Sidebar” series — which is anything but a “sidebar” at this point, for which I must sincerely apologize to grindhouse and exploitation fans out there who read, or at the very least check in on things at, this site, either religiously or occasionally, but rest assured I’ll return to treading more familiar territory  in the very near future — should be reserved solely for flicks that are, well, animated. Which this isn’t — not fully, at any rate.

Not that it’s not good — it is. in fact, it’s really good. But then, so is Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen comic, and that’s pretty much exactly what this is. Only it’s narrate. And the pictures move — a little — courtesy of an animation studio called Juice Films, who pretty much took Gibbons’ art “as is,” threw in a few motion effects here and there, and called it a day. All of which is my by-now-traditionally roundabout way of saying that even if you love the book on which this — errmmm (sorry, Rorschach) — “film” is based, you might not actually need to ever watch, much less own or rent, this so-called “motion comic.”

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Don’t get me wrong — it’s cool to see Rorschach’s mask moving and shit, but beyond that there’s really nothing about watching a semi-animated Watchmen that reading the printed Watchmen doesn’t offer. In fact, it gets a little weird in that actor Tom Stechschulte, who provides the narration, voices all the characters, and while that’s gotta be something of a tall order and he does the best he can to differentiate them in ways both subtle and obvious, he really doesn’t pull of Silk Spectre very convincingly because, well, he’s a guy and she’s (obviously) not.

Still, if even Zack Snyder’s celluloid riff on Watchmen didn’t hew close enough to its source to satisfy you, there’s no doubt that this will, because it’s not so much an “adaptation” as it is a beat-for-beat, note-for-note, word-for-word, image-for-image translation of said source into a new medium. And that’s pretty cool — even if the novelty wears off , for the most part, after a handful of its 20-or-so-minute “chapters.”

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If it’s all the same to you, dear reader, I’m not gonna bother with a plot recap or anything like that here, not so much out of laziness as because I covered Watchmen so extensively when it came out in theaters (and later on DVD and Blu-Ray), and because most of you are probably so familiar with the story already, that there’s just not much point.

I won’t skimp  on the background info, though,how does that sound? This was released in a two-disc DVD set and as a single-disc Blu-Ray by Warner Premier in late 2008 as part of the promotional run-up to the at-the-time-still-forthcoming Watchmen movie. I’ve seen bits and parts of it on both formats, and for the life of me can’t really tell the difference between them apart from the fact that the Blu-Ray crams it all onto one disc. Widescreen picture and 5.1 sound for both are outstanding. Neither iteration features any extras, and in fact this was included as an extra with both the DVD and Blu-Ray versions of the Watchmen : The Ultimate Cut package, and that might be the most natural home, all told, for material of this nature.

Oh, and it’s worth pointing out that even this was too “Hollywood” for Alan Moore and he asked to have his name removed from the credits for it, as is generally his custom these days. Love him or hate him (you know where I stand, the guy’s an absolute genius in my book), you have to admit there’s absolutely  no slack in his act.

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Inna final analysis, then,  as the news vendor in Watchmen would say, this is an interesting and cool thing to watch through at last once, I suppose, but only if you’re a die-hard fan of the original work — and only then if you’re feeling too lazy to pick it up and actually read it.

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So, this is it — the end of the line for both Before Watchmen, and for my reviews of same. I guess that means you’re doubly lucky today! Seriously, though — to those of you who have stuck this out (assuming there are any of you — frankly, I have no idea), I offer my sincere thanks, while to DC, I offer my sincere middle finger for taking up a lot of my time and money on a project that, ultimately, was of even less worth than it appeared to be going in.

Yeah, I know — I was the one stupid enough to keep buying these things, so to myself, I offer a swift kick in the ass.

Anyway, after numerous delays, the sixth and final issue of Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones’ Comedian mini-series finally hit the stands earlier today, and while I can say it’s probably the best-written issue of this book since the first, that’s really not saying much. At best, this is merely an average “mature” superhero comic, with an ending that, let’s face it, those of us still left reading this thing have been able to see coming for quite some time now (and even if you didn’t, the cover pretty much telegraphs it  from the outset). I’ve been saying for quite some time that the whole BW debacle was ending with a whimper, but I had no idea how literally true that would be — this issue wraps up with Eddie Blake crying after he does what he feels, I guess, he has to do (again, see cover), and there ain’t no grand finale; no shocked, rapturous awe; no stunned silence — nothin’. DC’s promo tagline for this issue (the story title for which, incidentally, is “Eighties” — something I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t understand in the least , and given that Azzarello isn’t exactly known for his subtlety, I’m feeling doubly stupid for my slowness on the uptake. Perhaps one of you good people could explain it for me?) is “Do you remember how Before Watchmen began? Because you’re never going to forget how it ends,” and if there’s any better proof that they need some more competent PR folks down there at 1700 West Broadway, I’m hard-pressed to think of it. They’re essentially admitting that the whole experience has been a pretty forgettable one right from the outset, but promising that, 37 comics (in total) later, they’re gonna do their best to make up for lost time and missed opportunities.

Talk about too little too late. Truth be told, I probably will   forget Before Wathcmen‘s ending as surely as I have its beginning, since it’s about as pre-formulated and predictable as, say,  the breakfast special at Denny’s. And probably about as good for you, too.

Still, the issue itself’s not a total waste — there’s a nifty little scene where The Comedian has a strictly-off-the-record meeting with G. Gordon Liddy that’s enjoyable enough and also hints at the fact that Blake may end up setting Liddy up vis a vis Watergate — but then you remember that Watergate never happened in the “Watchmen Universe” since it was made clear that it was Blake himself who killed Woodward and Bernstein, so Azzarello’s supposed “cleverness” with this sequence is, alas, ultimately wasted. Rather like the talents of everyone who participated in this project and the money of everyone who supported it.

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Jones’ art is, us usual, perfectly nice in its own standard-superhero-book sorta way, as is his cover (shown at top) and the variant by Rafael Albuquerque (shown immediately above), but again, nothing terribly memorable, just competent. And maybe that’s the saddest, and most telling  indictment when it comes to Before Watchmen : Comedian —  it got so damn bad so damn fast that here, at the end, even a mildly competent effort seems like an improvement. Seriously, you don’t even need to compare this with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series for it to fall up short —- just compare it to any other books out there on the racks. After an absolute  barn-burner of a fist issue, this series quickly settled into a parade of dull, pointless, hopelessly lazy and unambitious flashback stories that were lifeless and unimaginative when set in Viet Nam, and even worse when the “action” returned Stateside (remember the flat-out atrocious third issue, set during the Watts riots?) — all presented with little to no plot escalation or dramatic tension. It all reads as if Azzarello knew that he wanted to bookend things with the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers, but didn’t much care what happened in between. That would be bad enough with a four-part series, but in a six-parter it’s absolutely inexcusable.

Still — it’s over, right? Before Watchmen has come and gone, and we’ve all somehow survived. The universe didn’t implode in on itself, and if you’re one of those people whose fondest wish was to see the characters from what remains, to this day, the best superhero comic ever conceived of (and how said is it that in over a quarter-century this particular genre still hasn’t offered up anything better?) put into bog-standard, go-nowhere, typical-at-best stories, then hey — you’re probably pretty happy right now, and I’m happy for you. For the rest of us, the best thing that Before Watchmen did was to finally end.

And speaking of endings — the BW books might be over with, but my dissection of them isn’t. Well, okay, it is here, but it isn’t in a more general sense — if you want to read more of my dripping-with-disenchantment thoughts on the whole fiasco, I’m in the midst of a series of weekly postings over at http://www.geekyuniverse.com that takes a post-mortem look at each of the Before Watchmen mini-series in turn, so if you found my issue-by-issue ramblings either enlightening or annoying, my more generalized wrap-ups/analyses over there may be to your liking, as well. Other than that, I’m all written-out on this subject, and I honestly don’t see myself giving any of these books a secondary reading anytime in the near — or even distant — future. The end feels like a relief.