Posts Tagged ‘H.P. Lovecraft’

Apocalypse, big and small, has always been a central theme in Alan Moore’s work, going nearly all the way back : V For Vendetta was set in a post-apocalyptic world from the outset, but concluded with the un-making of the fascist society that had held sway since the bombs fell; Watchmen posited the still-hotly-debated question about whether or not Adrian Veidt was right to “save” the world by ending the world as we knew it; Miracleman blew up the world on a conceptual level by ushering in a morally and ethically ambiguous (at best) age of gods — it’s a constant through-line, even if you sometimes have to strain to see it.

Here’s the thing, though — in Moore’s eyes, apocalypse itself isn’t always such a bad thing. Promethea concluded with what might be called a “joyous apocalypse,” as the old ways of our thinking, co-existing with each other, and even being were gloriously swept aside in favor of something that can in a pinch be thought of as a sort of genuine, all-encompassing enlightenment, and in various interviews over the years Moore has spoken about the end of the world, or at least the world as we’ve constructed it, in almost hopeful terms — and this was well before notions as still-patently-ridiculous as that of “President Trump” had come to pass, so one is probably safe to assume that apocalypse would be a prospect he’d be positively giddy about now. Sadly, we appear far more likely to get armageddon instead, and however you slice it, chances are that’s really gonna suck. But I digress —

Given the author’s general “pro-apcalyptic” (as opposed to nihilist, there’s a world of difference) bent, it’s perhaps a bit surprising to see, then, that the end of the world as we know it as detailed in the pages of the twelfth and final issue of his and Jacen Burrows’ Providence is not something that’s going to leave us all , with apologies to R.E.M., “feeling fine.” Events, rapid-fire as they were, in the previous issue left left no doubt about where our story was ultimately headed, but to see it play out as predictably as it all does is perhaps the biggest surprise on offer here for long-terms Moore readers, who are accustomed to The Bearded One always having one more trick up his sleeve. This time out he doesn’t, but I would contend that actually fits right in with this series’ underlying sense of doom and inevitability in a way that a concluding segment that pulled out a couple of “shockeroo” moments never could. H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional (?) alternate reality of Yuggoth is upon us now, over-writing reality as we have come to understand it, but as is made abundantly clear by the no-less-momentous-for-their-predictability events of this chapter, it’s been here the whole time. As straight-ruled panels that used to denote dreams or other altered states of consciousness take over for the “hand-cut” panels that used to symbolize “reality,” we know that things have “flipped,” but we also know that what’s taking place has less to do with violent upheaval and much more to do with a pre-ordained transition. I can perhaps say no more without saying too much, but I will clue you in to this little tidbit : we’re a part of it, too. You and I as readers have our cleverly-engineered place in everything that’s going on here, and this “meta”-narrative has been sucking us in from the outset, inexorably, with our final destination of Leng waiting for us patiently the whole time.

Speaking of which — if there’s one fly in Providence #12’s ointment, it’s probably the fact that any folks reading this who haven’t read Moore and Burrows’ earlier Neonomicon are likely going to be left hopelessly behind by everything going on here. The story of Robert Black (whose destiny was, let’s not forget, foretold from jump) ended last time out, and the main order of business this time around is simply (and elegantly, and terrifyingly) making explicit what was implicit at the end of Neonomicon #4 lo, those many (or eight, by my count) years ago. FBI agent Merril Brears (whose subjugation, oppression, and violation provides the strongest possible hint that this reality will probably be no better than the old)  is at the center at  of all that’s happening in this issue, with sidekicks Barstow, Fuller, and director Carl Perlman in tow, but that doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of a few characters introduced in the pages of this series, either. Increase Orne, for instance, is along for the ride, as is Shadrach Annesley (whose presence provides for the issue’s only — admittedly pitch-black — moments of levity), and as the world is un-made/re-made/re-set, there are some new attendants (many of historical renown) there to bear witness and/or act as commentators on the proceedings, as well,  but make no mistake : this is more a capstone on the entire Moore/Burrows Lovecraft oeuvre than it is on the most recent (and longest) leg of it. Which is perhaps curious given that apparently the two are working on a short follow-up series to follow at some point  here, but hey — if you’re of a frame of mind to tug at the harness of inevitability, you’re probably not going to find this issue to your liking, anyway. It is what it is and all that.

Despite the air of finality, though, questions most certainly do remain, so that promised follow-up maybe does make more sense than it would seem to at first. Johnny Carcosa, for his part, remains as enigmatic a figure as ever, and ties between the Catholic Church and the Stella Sapiente order are hinted at before being left intriguingly beyond the grasp of our understanding, so there’s fertile ground yet to be idea-farmed around these parts. I could insert a cheap quip referencing the “nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends” line at this point, I suppose, but you know what? Given the way DC has chosen to pick up on that one in the creatively-moribund Rebirth era, I think I’ll just leave it alone.

I’d be committing gross malpractice, though, if I didn’t take a moment to single out Jacen Burrows’ work on this issue for some richly-deserved praise. His art has largely been exemplary throughout this series, barring the occasional depth-perspective choices I’ve quibbled with in previous reviews, but he leaves it all on the page here and delivers a bravura performance of finely-detailed, expressive illustration that brings out both the emotion in his human characters and the dread inherent in their increasingly inhuman surroundings with a real sense of macabre wonder. While others have occasionally queried as to why Moore didn’t attempt to pair with a “superstar” artist on this project, this issue effectively puts such idle speculations to rest — I can’t think of anyone better suited to draw the sort of material that’s on offer here, and I sincerely hope that editors at higher-paying publishing houses have taken note of his growth and progression, because he’s firmly cemented his status as a “A-lister” with this all-stops-pulled-out effort.

Now, of course, comes many years of debate and discussion as to where Providence falls in the larger pantheon of Moore works. I’ll need to embark on a comprehensive first-issue-to-last re-read before I can firmly decide that for myself, but I think it’s safe to say that we can probably all agree that it is by no means yet another piece of “Minor Moore” as we’d been accustomed to with his Avarat-published projects, most of which had previously been faithful adaptations of sidebar items initially done for other media. This is big, bold, expansive, challenging (thematically and practically) stuff, the product of robust and bold imagining that rivals his most celebrated works in terms of its scope and magnitude. It hasn’t supplanted From Hell and Promethea at the top of my own personal “Favorite Alan Moore Books” list, but in time I could see it working its way into that conversation. As the “trade-waiters” jump on with the inevitable (there’s that word again) hardcover, deluxe hardcover, leatherbound, paperback (the list is sure to be endless) collections, we’ll see how they feel about it, but at the very least, I feel confident in predicting that most will be more than pleasantly surprised to find an ambitious Phoenix such as this rising from the ashes of Neonomicon, which generally (if, in my own humble view, inaccurately) remains its author’s most comprehensively-reviled work.

All of which, I suppose, is my way of saying that if these reviews of mine haven’t convinced you to give this thing a look, hopefully the collected edition(s) will. Providence is a dense, complex, multi-faceted, perspective-shaking undertaking whose stature is likely only to grow, Fungi of Yuggoth-like, over time. My respect and admiration for its creators is already well-established, to be sure, but beyond that, and for whatever it’s worth, they also have my profound and heartfelt thanks.

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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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It’s no secret :  apocalypse has always loomed large in the works of Alan Moore — from Adrian Veidt’s duplicitous, engineered “brave new world” of Watchmen to the celebratory “wrap party” of all as we know it to be in Promethea, one way or another, as Rorschach himself would almost certainly put it, the end is always nigh. In Dez Vylenz’ documentary feature The Mindscape Of Alan Moore, the author himself opines that, in his considered view, apocalypse is essentially synonymous with revelation, and that it needn’t be feared in the least — but apparently he didn’t pass that memo along to one of his own characters, the ever-hapless (not to mention clueless) Robert Black, who experiences perhaps the most personal Moore-scripted apocalypse to date, yet also the one with the most profound and far-reaching (not to mention harrowing) consequences, as he comes to find out that he is an unwitting agent for, essentially, the re-writing of reality itself — to the way it’s always been?

Operating under the theory that ignorance is bliss, Black has been busily rationalizing all his less-than-commonplace (readers of this series’ backmatter will groan at that one) experiences throughout haunted New England circa 1919 either as a defense mechanism for purposes of retaining his own sanity, a knee-jerk reaction based on his cosmopolitan rationalism, or both, but let’s not us kid ourselves in the same fashion — he’s been due a come-uppance of the sort he can’t just explain away for some time, and in the pages of Providence #10 it finally hits, first through his conversations with H.P. Lovecraft, wherein the still-amateur horror scribe unwittingly gives away something of the “hidden hand in all things” (leave it to Moore to reveal  that a character who’s been there all along but who we’ve never actually met — and probably never will — is arguably the most pivotal figure in the whole story)  and then in a momentous — in the strictest sense of that term — encounter with The Courtyard and Neonomicon central personage Johnny Carcosa, who, in memorably horrific fashion, drives home what all the talk of “The Redeemer” and “The Messenger” lurking in this title’s periphery has been about. I’d say “nothing is ever going to be the same,” but let’s be honest — nothing in Providence ever was, anyway.

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Literary references fly fast and furious in this issue, as we’ve come to expect (with Lovecraft’s The Haunter Of The Dark coming as close as anything to assuming the mantle of “anchor story” this time out), but it’s Moore’s ruminations on the nature of literature — and, indeed, of all fiction — that are of utmost import here, with Carcosa “flickering” between two-dimensional “existence” and solid, physical “reality” as he drops tantalizing hints about the nature of the “invented” world and the phenomena of post-selection that will blow the minds of even the most veteran travelers of the psychedelic realms. Simply put, if you can wrap your head around the idea that Lovecraft’s “Old Gods” dreamed this world into being in order to create the conditions by which humans, in turn, would eventually imagine them into being you might be coming close to what’s being intimated at here — but with two issues left to go, I have no doubt that most of the bigger picture still remains tantalizingly beyond the grasp of us mere mortals at this point, and that Black’s revelations will prove to be both concurrent with, as well as pale in comparison to, our own.

For those more inclined to focus on the prosaic, “surface-level” concerns Moore and Burrows (who ups his own ante considerably on the art for this installment, pulling out all the stops when it comes time to delineate what can barely even be adequately described, much less drawn) have been toying with since the outset of their “Lovecraft Cycle,” rest assured that those aren’t ignored in these pages, either — for instance, if you’ve been wondering why Carcotha talkth the way he doeth, that mythtery ith finally tholved (it ain’t pretty), and the obvious ties that bind Black’s journals to Lovecraft’s forthcoming literary works are finally stitched together, as well. No doubt, for a comic that consists almost entirely of two characters conversing with each other (either Black and Lovecraft or Black and Carcosa), there’s a whole lot going on here.

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Perhaps that’s a largely-unacknowledged part of the real genius that’s quietly been underpinning this entire enterprise from the start — there hasn’t been so much as a single punch thrown in ten issues here, and indeed little to no “action” of the traditional sort has been on offer at all, yet has there been a more intellectually, philosophically, or artistically “exciting” book on the stands in the last who-knows-how-many years, never mind one that shakes its readers’ very conception of reality, the universe, and anything and everything associated with both/either to the degree this one does? If you’ve been reading this comic — and, honestly, shame on you if you haven’t — you already know the answer to that.

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I dunno — I feel like I’m literally a different person now than I was when Providence started, even if I was always meant to be this way. Or already was and just didn’t know it. Or never will be. Or, heck, maybe I’m still, eternally, in the process of becoming it  — whatever “it” is. Whatever I am. Whatever anything is. I’ve long felt that contemplating the apparently-unfathomable is not only life’s highest calling, but in the end is the only one that really matters. Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows are facilitating that exploration in ways I could never have begun to imagine and, crucially, providing me with the tools to continue on from this point once they’ve (regretfully) concluded their business here. I have no doubt that when I look back on this whole thing we call “life” from wherever it is I am five or ten years down the road, that Providence #10 — one of the single-finest comics I’ve ever read and one of the best works of “fiction” (a term we can now safely say that we need to use very  loosely) I’ve ever experienced in any form — will stand out as a watershed moment where everything that I was thinking about, well, everything took a quantum leap forward.

 

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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.

 

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Some years back, Dave Sim conducted (via correspondence, if memory serves me correctly) a lengthy and fascinating interview with Alan Moore that he ran over the space of several issues as a backup feature in Cerebus. Moore was, at the time, in the midst of writing From Hell, and one idea that he kept coming back to as he expounded upon his creative process was something that he called “high-altitude mapping,” which is sort of a convenient shorthand term for “when you stand back far enough from the situation, there is no distinct separation between dreams and reality.”

It’s a powerful notion, when you really stop to think about it — after all, isn’t the whole point of living to “chase our dreams”? And don’t the limits imposed on those dreams by daily life’s practicalities whittle down and otherwise confine the scope of them over time? When you’re a kid, maybe you dreamed of being a movie star. Or a rock star. Or a famous author. Or a superstar athlete. Or president of the United States. It’s all technically possible for a time, of course, until our actions, or circumstances, necessarily begin to do away with some or all of those possibilities. Then at some point,  after limiting the scope of your dreams for any number of years, you have kids,  and you tend to transfer your dreams down to them — some of which they may be “on board” with, others of which they may cast aside in favor of their own. And so the cycle continues, our dreams affecting the course of our “real” lives while our “real” lives modify and alter the character of our dreams.

Then there’s the whole matter of the dreams we have while we’re asleep — that raw, unfiltered communication from our subconscious mind that informs our conscious mind in ways we still don’t, and may never, fully understand. In a very real sense we’re talking to ourselves in our dreams, and while they very often appear to make no “sense,” who can deny the power of a dream so “real” that it lingers in our waking thoughts for days on end? Say what you will for outer space, but with apologies to any Star Trek fans that might be reading this, the world of dreams is, in my own opinion, “the final frontier” of human exploration — just as it was, in many ways, the first.

We’ve been fascinated, intrigued, perplexed, and in some cases flat-out terrified by our dreams, and what they say about ourselves, since we first crawled from the primordial ooze, and yet they remain as alluring to us, and as tantalizingly out of our reach, as ever — and that’s never likely to change. Unless it does. But we’ll get back to that in a moment — for now, let’s just acknowledge that as a species we’re positively obsessed by dreams, and H.P. Lovecraft was no exception, devoting many a story to the phenomenon of dreaming, and to exploring the notion that perhaps our “dream life” was our true one, with corporeal, “consensus” reality being , for all intents and purposes, our “secondary life.”

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Issue number eight of Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence, entitled “The Key,” opens with our protagonist, Robert Black, being regaled with numerous “dream stories” by his host, amateur author/would-be decadent Randall Carver (an obvious stand-in for Randolph Carter, the central figure in many of the stories that comprise Lovecraft’s “Dream Cycle,” with “The Statement Of Randolph Carter” being our de facto “anchor story” in this issue, but elements of said entire “Cycle” coming into play). The first one talked about/shown to readers is lifted directly from Charles Fort’s Book Of The Damned — and, really, given the thematic concerns of Providence and the time period in which it’s set it’s actually something of a surprise that this is our first exposure to so-called “Forteana” within its pages — but in fairly short order Black and Carver are discussing Lovecraft’s own Beyond The Wall Of Sleep and utilizing Carver/Carter’s “700 Steps” method for triggering “lucid dreaming” in order to journey through a semi-conscious landscape that incorporates numerous characters and story elements introduced in previous issues, stylistic homages to the great Winsor McKay, and hey — even some of the imagery featured in the “Dreamscape Wrap” covers that Burrows has lavished so much attention and detail upon. It’s a heady and intoxicating experience, to say the least, and its after-effects most certainly inform the rest of the issue.

One can’t dream forever, though, and if our characters want to make it to the reading being held later that night by Carver’s literary hero, Lord Dunsany, they do need to “snap out of it” and get back to “reality” — whatever that even means at this point. A casual stroll through the streets of Boston (that includes a perhaps-coincidental run-in with a now-obviously-quite-paranoid Dr. Hector North) soon gives way to an enraptured evening of listening to Dunsany talk that sees Black, and perhaps even the rest of the audience, re-enter the “lucid dreaming” state thanks, this time, to the power of the author/speaker’s words alone, and without the assistance of whatever it was that was burning in Carver’s incense pot earlier. Heck, not even one step is necessary this time around, much less 700 of them.

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Don’t discount the ability of the physical world to hold surprises of its own, though, for once the lecture is over, the “big moment” that we’ve all been waiting for in this series arrives : Black meets Lovecraft himself for the first time, and the shock wave that this creates in the — I dunno, ether? — draws the attention of many a key player from earlier chapters in this sprawling epic. Could this, in fact, be the meeting of “The Herald” and “The Redeemer” long prophesied by the Stella Sapiente order? Black, as usual, is oblivious to this possibility, but at least he’s got a valid excuse — as he departs into the evening, Lovecraft’s invitation to come visit him anytime at his home in Providence having just been proffered, key early passages from Beyond The Wall Of Sleep are ringing in his ears so insistently and profoundly that he actually hears the people around him saying them, and this storytelling conceit is made all the more concrete thanks to their dialogue being rendered in a type-written font not unlike what one would find in the pages of one of Lovecraft’s books.

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That bit of “fourth-wall busting” closes the main story out, but in the “Commonplace Book” backmatter that appends the issue, there is a curious fuck-up on page 29 that I don’t actually think is a fuck-up at all when viewed in the context of where this story has been heading all along — Black refers to Carver as “Carter” at one point on the page in question, and I humbly submit that this “blending,” if you will, of the “real” and the “dream” worlds is what Moore and Burrows have been building towards from the outset. It’s only a theory, mind you, but the insertion of Lovecraft into a narrative based on his works, the overall project of the Stella Sapiente being a “flipping” of the “real” and “dream” worlds, the assertion in the last issue that said “dream” world exists underground — it all fits in with the “high-altitude mapping” Moore discussed in his conversation with Sim, and leads me to believe that what we are witnessing in Providence is a slowly-unfolding occult ritual on the author’s part with an aim not so entirely different from that of, as Garland Wheatley called them, the “Stel Saps.” Moore may not be looking to actively overwrite our consensus reality with the “dreamscape,” but he’s actively blurring the distinctions between the two of them to the point where they either can’t be discerned anymore, or fade into absolute irrelevance. He and Burrows are playing not just with our perception of the world, but with the very nature of the world that we’re perceiving. If you want to be glib about it, you could say that they’re telling a fictional story — that’s becoming increasingly true.  And if you’re still not picking this book up, you’re missing out on perhaps the most thematically, artistically, and, yes, magickally ambitious comics series not just of this year, this decade, or even this young century, but — no shit — of your entire life.

 

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It’s no secret to anyone and everyone who follows this site that Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ 12-part comics series Providence has sparked your humble host/author off on a major H.P. Lovecraft kick the likes of which I haven’t been on since my early 20s when I first started getting into his work, and my thirst for HPL-based cinematic offerings is well-nigh insatiable at this point. We’ve taken a look at some of the good (Cool Air) and some of the bad (The Tomb) in recent months around these parts, and I’m pleased to report that just the other night I discovered an unassuming little shot-on-HD no-budget gem that definitely falls under the “good” category : director Tom Gliserman’s 2014 adaptation of The Thing On The Doorstep.

Now, I can’t claim to know much of anything about Gliserman and the other folks behind this project (such as producer Will Severin and screenwiter/co-star Mary Jane Hansen), but my best guess is that they’re Lovecraft fans first and filmmakers second, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that in my mind, even if it means there are (remarkably few) technical glitches here and there in this flick, because it ensures they bring a real passion for the material to the proceedings and that passion definitely shows through from word “go” to word “stop” here. Labors of love are always interesting, at the very least, and this one is both interesting and extremely well-executed on the whole, so if you’re able to make allowances for the film’s sub-Hollywood-level production values (and if you can’t I have to wonder why you’re a reader of this site in the first place), chances are that you’ll end up walking away from this one every bit as impressed as I was.

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First, a few particulars for those who may not be terribly familiar with the story : married soon-to-be-family-man Daniel Upton (played here by David Bunce) is something of an older brother figure/constant source of assistance to his lifelong friend, Edward Derby (Rob Dalton). Daniel’s wife, Marion (Susan Cicarelli-Caputo) is a pretty good sport about the “third wheel” in their relationship since Edward, interesting though he may be, doesn’t really seem to have any other friends and indeed is something of a social misfit/eternal adolescent. That all changes in a hurry, though, when the big kid meets amateur hypnotist/woman of mystery Asenath Waite (Hansen) at a party and is immediately taken with her. So taken, in fact, that in fairly short order they’re travelling the globe together before getting married and buying the rattiest, most run-down “fixer-upper” you can possibly imagine. Except they never get around to fixing the place up much. They employ a brusque maid who acts more like a gatekeeper than a household helping hand. And Edward quickly progresses from being smitten with his new bride to fearing her and the terrible secret he’s convinced she’s hiding. The truth, when he finally pieces it all together? Well, let’s just say that it’s far stranger than anything he could have dreamed up in his now-fevered mined and that the survival of his consciousness/soul is very much in danger — even if his body will keep on keepin’ on.

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For the Lovecraft “purists” out there, rest assured that this film is a very  faithful cinematic translation of its “source material” despite the fact that, largely for budgetary reasons I’m sure, it takes place in the modern day rather than back in the 1920s, Hansen’s screenplay takes a few liberties here and there, sure, but they’re few and far between and all make sense given the contextual leap from the printed page to the screen. In short, if you’re not into seeing Lovecraft played for laughs or dumbed-down for lowest-common-denominator audiences, you’re really going to dig the tone, tempo, and mood of this remarkably respectful movie.

I mentioned already that the production values aren’t Spielberg-level by any means, but that doesn’t mean that Gliserman and company don’t make the best of what they have to work with. The locations utilized are all pitch-perfect, the largely unprofessional cast all acquit themselves splendidly right down the line, and there are a number of astonishingly effective shots that would earn the filmmakers an “A+” if this were, say, a grad school project. This is micro-budget movie-making at its most accomplished, and there’s never any sense that anyone here has a “well, hey, we can only do so much” attitude — indeed, rather than “settling” for a lesser product, everyone seems determined to wring as much as they’re able to , and even more, from the hand they’re dealt and to create a finished product that’s not only watchable, but is something they can be proud of. As well they all should be, frankly, since everything from the acting to the cinematography to the editing to the visual effects to the musical score is of the “good-bordering-on-great” variety.

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I can’t say for sure that I know where The Thing On The Doorstep circa 2014 was made — I think I read somewhere that it was in Ohio, but don’t hold me to that — but I do know where you can find it : in addition to a self-funded/self-distributed DVD (the technical specs, extras, etc. of which I’m not qualified to comment on since I didn’t see it in that format), it’s available for streaming on Amazon, and you can even watch it for free if you’ve got a Prime membership. How long it remains available  there is anyone’s guess, though, so I strongly and whole-heartedly recommend that you do yourself a favor and check it out immediately.

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It occurs to me that as we begin the second “leg” of Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence with the just-released seventh issue that we as readers are on no firmer ground, metaphorically speaking, than hapless protagonist Robert Black is in a more literal sense — having fled Manchester without even knowing how much time he spent there much less what happened both to and around him, our hero/victim next turns up in Boston smack-dab in the middle of the notorious round of riots and looting instigated by the city’s police strike of 1919, an engineered debacle both triggered by the actions of, and then capitalized for political gain by, then-governor Calvin Coolidge, one of early-20th-century America’s more loathsome figures. For our hopelessly cracking (or maybe that should be already cracked)  former newspaperman, though, the violence and depravity he sees unfolding on the streets of Beantown is a pretty accurate reflection of his own mental state, and as we open this issue turmoil (both inner and outer) seems to be the order of the day.

Fortunately, he makes the acquaintance of beleaguered soon-to-be-former cop Eamon O’Brien, who manages to not only direct, but accompany, him to the residence of photographer/painter Ronald Underwood Pitman, the man Black has traveled to Boston to meet, and while both are certainly glad to be quickly ushered into Pitman’s home, this is a visit that will end very differently for each.

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I trust I’m not giving anything away at this point if I reveal that the H.P. Lovecraft “anchor story” for this issue is Pickman’s Model, with Pitman functioning as our “stand-in” for doomed artist Richard Upton Pickman himself, but what struck me is how this new installment is something of a “throwback” to the first couple of chapters, with Moore focusing his ever-sharp eye on just one Lovecraft tale rather than incorporating elements from several into a sort of “tapestry,” as was the case with numbers three, four, five, and six (especially five and six). This “extra-special attention” definitely pays off in terms of expanding the breadth and scope of the horror at the heart of Pickman’s Model, despite the fact that the premise is essentially unchanged (painter transcribes scenes of horror onto his canvas that are a little too real for most tastes, most featuring a recurring “hairy, toothy monster” theme), and in fact goes some way toward disproving the time-worn adage that “it’s what you don’t see that’s most scary,” since both Moore’s script and Burrows’  wonderfully-realized, detail-rich art go a long way toward establishing a much more graphic realization of the terror Lovecraft only hints at — until the very end, at any rate — in his original yarn.

Black, though — ever the creative interpreter of events — at first seems almost pathologically clueless to the fact that he’s actually going from the frying pan into the fire here, and constructs, for the sake of maintaining his own sanity if nothing else,   a political subtext for Pitman’s works that the perpetually-nervous-but-strangely-sympathetic (his speech is littered with “uhm”s) artist is all too happy to play along with despite the fact that it’s painfully obvious he’d never considered such an “alibi,” if you will, himself. If you’re thinking that Black’s skewed take has something to do with the creatures — who Pitman refers to as “saprovores” — representing the “1%”-types sucking on the blood and marrow of their working-class “victims,” you’re pretty close to the mark.

Still, the full extent of Black’s almost heroic capacity for self-deception isn’t made completely clear until after he meets “Pitman’s model,” a gigantic deep-cellar-dweller who goes by the name of “King George” and takes pride in being both a “good boy” and a “hard worker.” The nature of his “work” should be immediately apparent to anyone who either knows the term “saprovore” already or bothered to look it up when Pitman first mentioned it, but for those who just keep plugging ahead with their reading regardless, rest assured that Moore makes things perfectly clear pretty quickly, and yeah — it’s creepy as fuck, even though we don’t even blink at the thought of worms and maggots doing essentially the same job.

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What wasn’t entirely clear to me until my second reading of this issue was how Moore is having a bit of self-referential fun with his audience here (yes, Providence can, at times, actually be fun) — there’s been a running theme of class-related issues at play here almost from the outset of the series (as there is in much of Moore’s work, and in much British literature, film, and television in general), with the “fish people” of issue three being looked down upon by the “respectable citizens” of Salem, the inbred Wheatley clan of the fourth issue being an object of scorn for both their neighbors and former “colleagues” in the Stella Sapiente order, and the “elite, refined” Wade family being the receptacle/vessel of the most malignant entity we’ve met so far in issue six. His message, at least to me, seems quite clear — no matter how monstrous and evil some of the “lower-class” people we meet on this journey are, the rich are always worse, and represent the true “villains” of the story. Here that point is driven home by King George  — who has brothers, we learn, named George Washington and, even more curiously, Mary Pickford, and I confess that I spent a good long time figuring out just how the saprovores might come by their unique “handles” before discovering that, as usual, the fine folks over at http://factsprovidence.wordpress.com had beaten me to it —bemoaning the fact that he and his brothers “work hard” while the “yankees” who live above them “have many things and — do not work hard. And always we are underneath them.” And yet, in a knowing wink to readers, Moore presents Black’s political reading of Pitman’s work as being nothing but a desperate attempt at rationalization by an equally desperate man, even while he invites us to do the same with his own subject matter here. Irony, you can be so delicious.

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We’ll wind things down, then,  by dove-tailing back to a couple of near-throwaway comments I made previously, since I seem to be absorbing via some form of osmosis Moore and Burrows’ penchant for not letting any tiny piece of information, either of the scripted or illustrated variety, go to waste. I mentioned that the visit to Pitman’s home ended “quite differently” for Officer O’Brien than it did for Black, and while a fiendishly subtle clue as to the flatfoot’s eventual fate makes an appearance when Black dons an apparently-spare overcoat before his descent into the tunnels beneath the house (a scene which plays out via the same straight-ruled vertical panels than Burrows employed for our protagonist’s subterranean journey in issue #2), the dread becomes deeper when King George asks Pitman if Robert is the brother of the “other,” in his words, “red and black one,” and all becomes painfully clear in the last panel of the issue — in keeping with the story upon which it’s based,  of course,  but the added dimension of specificity that Providence #7 gives to events Lovecraft referenced in more oblique fashion really gives the final image here an extra dose of “holy shit!”-ness even though it’s hardly a surprise by this point.

As far as the second brief (I promise!) point I wanted to get back to goes, this time in regards to Black’s — how did I put it it, “heroic capacity for self-deception” or somesuch? —well, I’ll just say that the bizarre “spin” he puts on his meeting with King George, and on his entire 10-day stay with Pitman in general, just has to be read to be believed, and provides yet another sterling example of why, much as the “main” story reveals, you should absolutely never skip over the backmatter at the end of the issues in this series. Besides, if you do, you’ll miss the laugh-out-loud-in-spite-of-yourself thrill of seeing how the truth of what happened to Robert in issue six finally assert itself into his consciousness — even if, as ever, he completely fails to realize it.

Still, Black’s return to blissful unawareness is rather richly deserved at this point. The guy’s been through a hell of a lot, and while us lucky readers are learning more with each successive installment  (as far as major revelations go, this issue packs a doozy with the introduction of the notion that the world of dreams is an actual, physical plane of existence far beneath the Earth, with the saprovores inhabiting a middle ground between the two and the Stella Sapiente engaged in a project of “flipping” the “upstairs” and “downstairs” realities around ), I think he’s sort of earned a breather. We all know it’s both destined not to last and entirely a product of his own rationalization, but still — it felt good to see him smiling as this chapter drew to a close. Even if walking past a cemetery gives him some pause.

In closing, it appears as though we’ll be waiting until April for Providence #8, but I’m not complaining. I’ve read this issue four times already and look forward to reading it about a dozen (at least) more, and anything that can be done to prolong this title’s stay on comic shop shelves is welcome, as far as I’m concerned. 60 days between installments is hardly a death-knell for sales of purportedly-monthly “floppies” with today’s “delay-trained” readership, and in fact there seems to be a positive “buzz” building around this book the longer it goes on. Besides, if Sex Criminals fans can wait twice that long, on average, for each new issue, then how much do we really have to bitch about here? You can’t rush perfection, as they say — and right now Providence is as close to a perfect comic as any that I’ve read in the past decade, at minimum. Take your time, Alan and Jacen — we know you’re working hard.