Now Reading: Providence

Providence is the latest (and possibly last, we’ll see) story from comic book guru Alan Moore. To put it simply, it’s a Cthulhu story that dives into the origins of the various mythologies of Cthulhu, The Necronomicon, and many other H.P. Lovecraft tales. Before getting into it further though, it’s probably important to point out that Moore’s Neonomicon should really be read first.

Neonomicon deals with somewhat the same subject matter, but it takes place in the present day and is a good deal more graphic and rapey than Providence (can’t have an Alan Moore comic without some rape, unfortunately). It introduces several key characters, that while not present for most of Providence, are still important to the end of the whole thing. There are also several locations and concepts introduced here that get re-visited and explained more thoroughly in Providence, so while I suppose you could technically read one without the other, I really wouldn’t advise it.

Anyway, Providence itself jumps back to the early 1900’s and digs deeply into the origins of the “Cthulu-verse”. Where Neonomicon was more overt in it’s horror, Providence moves at much slower, more atmospheric pace. Ex-reporter Robert Black finds himself travelling across America, searching for the secret places behind the curtains and finding much more than he bargains for. His quest begins to take him on a tour of the origins of a mysterious secret society who sprung from the teachings of a certain mysterious book, and he finds himself in some very strange situations, which he tries his hardest to be in complete denial about until it’s too late.

This approach of keeping the protagonist perpetually in the dark, while the audience clearly sees all the hidden evils lurking right behind them, doesn’t always work, but Moore pulls it off with his usual mastery of the art, turning each location that Black visits into an intricate tapestry of tension and terror. As usual with a Moore story, the design and detail of everything going on is staggering. Extremely meticulous amounts of research went into crafting this world and much thought and care was clearly put into each and every word spoken here. Everything is connected and filled with multiple meanings.

Even the title, Providence, is a clever little package of information. Providence is not only the name of Black’s ultimate destination, the town in which H.P. Lovecraft grew up and wrote his many stories, but it also literally means “the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power” and “timely preparation for future eventualities”, which are both highly relevant to what’s really going on in this story and also very interestingly used here, as for some reason, the word providence tends to be used in an inherently positive context, with an assumption that the being behind it has benevolent intentions, but nothing about the word or its definitions ever actually specify a moral stance.

So if you have any interest in Cthulhu/Lovecraftian horror, the patience for what is an extremely dense read for a comic book, and the stomach for some occasionally very disturbing content, check this out. I hope that it’s not really the last comic Alan Moore ever writes, as he has recently claimed, but at least if it is, he sure as hell went out on a high note. Now I guess I’ll be re-reading Alan Moore stuff again for the next month…

Now Reading: Miracleman

Miracleman, originally called Marvelman, was originally a blatant Captain Marvel/Shazam ripoff, but upon his revival in the early 80s by THE ORIGINAL WRITER, he became one of the earliest examples of a superhero comic trying to be painfully realistic. Miracleman confronts his goofy secret origin, meets his creator, wrestles with his own godliness, and reaches the only natural conclusion that a godlike superbeing could reach, that he and the few others like him should run the world. This occurred a bit before Gruenwald did it in Squadron Supreme, and was of course, with THE ORIGINAL WRITER involved, a great deal more graphic about it.

It’s not the greatest work of THE ORIGINAL WRITER, but it was still a very memorable series while it lasted and under the Comico label, was able to deal with much more mature and dark issues than the other mainstream superhero books were allowed to touch on at the time. Neil Gaiman picked up the title after THE ORIGINAL WRITER left, but the publisher went under right before the last issue of his second arc, The Silver Age, leaving us with arguably the worst case of comic book blue balls in history. Amazingly though, since Marvel picked up the rights and reprinted all the old stuff over the last few years, they have finally made a deal with Gaiman to come back and finish the story, which is supposed to be happening sometime this year. Maybe he’ll even get to do the final arc he had planned, The Dark Age. We shall see.

Anyway, despite the way these modern Marvel reprints are disgustingly overpriced and packed full of filler “extras” pages (literally only 50% or less of each volume is actual story), they remain the best, and realistically the only, way to physically enjoy this essential classic series.