Monday, October 16, 2017

H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu #3



Halloween 2017 Post-A-Day, Day 16:
H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu #3


Beginning five days of Lovecraft!

Given that after Nameless is no place to go but down now: Sullying two good names in one book title

"The Whisperer in Darkness, Part Three”
Written – Terry Collins & Paul Davisl
Pencils – Don Heck
Inks – Robert Lewis
Colors – Mark Menendez & Deirdre DeLay
Art Direction – Melissa Martin
Editor – Paul Davis
May 1992

For a long time, I was afraid of opening this book and that fear was completely justified.

Not for the normal reasons you dread a scary comic book. Not out of dread that there might be mind-numbing terror the likes of Alan Moore’s Neonomicon lurking between the heavy stock covers, madness held in a stapled binding.

No, I feared it for exactly the opposite reason. I feared it would disappoint or anger me.

I consider myself a huge fan of Howard Phillips Lovecraft and all things to do with his mythos. I like poorly done knock-offs of his material about as much as a Catholic likes cheap plastic Jesus statues. They mock the serious commitment to the art of writing horror that Lovecraft’s work should engender in people. I’m not above enjoying a Stuart Gordon film here or there, but by then the work is so derivative that it is pretty much its own thing.

Halloween made me do it. I cracked open the cover and read THIS book…*sigh*

There was a time when I was growing up where I was a huge Tolkien fan. Loved The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings so much I wanted to jump into that world and run around. Thankfully I found Gary Gygax’s Dungeons and Dragons, so I had a chance to do the next best thing. It wasn’t the exact same as being a hero-class wizard or ranger, but it stood as a very close approximation in role-playing terms.




There were scores of HPL fans who wanted to do the same. And for them, due to Gygax’s success, there was Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu game. I own a lot of the CoC modules and consider them well made, inventive affairs. In fact, many of the adventures have underpinnings that are unique and interesting. But…

…the gameplay can in no way be considered “Lovecraftian” nor the outcome of play sessions be a Lovecraftian tale.

The game mechanics rely on your characters surviving for the most part. Even with Sanity checks and instant death events, the outcome of these adventures is to build up super-characters the same way D&D creates powerful wizards and tank-class barbarians. It is part of the role-playing ladder of rewarding careful players.

None of which fits into a Lovecraft version of the universe. In fact, just making it through the day still wanting to live is a bit much to ask after seeing the bleak and uncaring HPL universe.

While I think CoC looks like fun, it isn’t Lovecraft to me. Because of things like this:



Meet two of Mark Ellis’ Call of Cthulhu party members from the group he likes to call The Miskatonic Project. They are like 1920’s version of Ghostbusters, using tommy guns, super-science and psychic powers to take out evil cultists and creatures from the Cthulhu monster manual with all the ease of rolling a 20-sided die. See how non-Lovecraftian this is?

Lovecraft wasn’t about gore or action, he was about atmosphere and character. Lovecraft didn’t like showing the creature because he knew that whatever you came up with in your own head was a million times more frightening that what was described on the page. This book is the antithesis of Lovecraft’s work. Yet, the front cover is emblazoned with his name.

*sigh*

The only way to approach this book is as someone’s Call of Cthulhu game sessions written into comic book form, and even then, the “story” lacks any real excitement. Even with all the explosions and gunfire, the thrill is missing. This from a book where the splash page gives the title as “The Whisperer in Darkness” yet unironically shows a Dick Tracy in sunglasses mowing down people in machinegun loud fashion. You get the feeling of sound and fury signifying nothing, which is exactly what writer Mark Ellis delivers.

Maybe coming in on chapter three of a three-part arc is a bad thing, because all we have is action-action-Action! for a bit with lots of shooting and punching. For one thing, guy who stole Dick Tracy’s coat gets cold-cocked and dragged off. 



His name is Lord Sabbath, which is both pretentious and goofy. The only way the group can track where the cultists took him is via – get this! – this other character’s psychic mind powers. She goes by the handle Fleur Avignon, which is likewise pretentious and goofy. They need her brain powers because their super-science thingamagig geo-scanner got busted up in the fight.



These are the parts that feel so much like the CoC game. The wacky, over-the-top characters. The introduction of gizmos that serve to move the plot along. The reliance on “good” supernatural elements that balance out the evil and bad unnatural powers that are arrayed against the heroes.

Ugh! That last bit. I’ll say it once again: in Lovecraft’s universe there was no cosmic force that balanced out the evils that assailed humanity. There was only man stumbling upon the truth that human civilization’s ruin could happen at any moment, by events he was powerless to prevent.

But yeah, you’ve got a bag of dynamite. That ought to fix things.

The trio set off to find their friend using Fleur’s mind powers and come across this.



That’s supposed to be a Mi-Go so I’ll need a SAN check from everyone! Oh, you all made it. Why of course you did! Can’t have anyone losing their marbles in this book.

Also, if you hadn’t noticed by now, the art in this book is decidedly craptacular. I’m uncertain if taking out the heavy-handed inking would have done Don Heck’s pencils any favors. Heck isn’t my favorite Marvel artist, but I believe he’s better than this. The one book I have of his was an Iron Man that wasn’t too bad. He did draw IM with a nose though, which is a design that I really hate. As I hate this Godzilla-legged Mi-Go.


And that Mi-Go representation is just hideous. They don’t have eyes and a face with jaws. Their head is like a giant mass of antenna. They are PINK, not GREEN. Their total length is five feet long and they sport dorsal wings or fins with multiple arms underneath of an insect-like variety. 





Someone get Don Heck some HPL books. Please!

The trio run with the Mi-Go flying after them. The end up at Akeley’s house from the actual story The Whisperer in Darkness



Once inside, a neighboring farmer confronts them with a loaded shotgun. He’s looking for his daughter, abducted two weeks ago, and spends two pages unspooling his tale for them.


Okay, so maybe “abducted” isn’t the correct term. “Took something from,” perhaps fits better. And that thing they took was her brain.


Fleur interrupts the discussion as her Spider-Sense goes off.




Everyone hesitates, like they can’t believe someone in an H.P. Lovecraft story has some kind of superpower. And then the floor opens up and a Mi-Go eats the old geezer, which is no great loss since he ran out of exposition to dump on us anyway.



This feels not only like a CoC game setup, it almost feels like a CoC game session. Lovingly set down in ink on paper, the actual dice rolls and actions of the party. I’ve long said that playing D&D is fun but reading someone playing D&D is kind of boring and I stand by that. (Listening to someone play D&D is great though, as proved by the weird folks over at The Adventure Zone. Go figure. *shrug*)

Our little adventuring party decides to follow the Mi-Go down the hole, especially after Fleur uses her Plotdevice-Sense to detect that Lord Sabbath is down there. They tie off a rope and off they go. 
Using Fleur like a divining rod, the third member of our group, the one who’s only skill was working the geo-scanner thing is given the chance to roll a check to see if he can remember some historical reference that might have relevance to the Mi-Go.




He rolls an 18 and can tell the group this bit of (not really) handy knowledge.

As they grow closer, Fleur’s power detects yet another presence and we find…




…that the writer has stolen another Lovecraft main character. This time it is Inspector Legrasse, the investigator from The Call of Cthulhu. Or maybe the ghost of Legrasse, as he appears to be more spirit than person. Fleur goes on about some non-sense that he appears “trapped in another solar system” and then the tunnel ends at two huge, carved doors. Or as Fleur calls it “a place of death.”



Or what most of us would call “a place of cheap plastic skeletons”. 




Look at them! Look! They have no flesh hanging those bones together. No way REAL skeletons would look like that with no connective tissue involved. It is like a Spirit Store on steroids.

Oh, and we are supposed to note that each skeleton has its skull carefully sliced open so the brain can be removed, JUST LIKE THE MI-GO DID IN THE STORY “THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS.” Got it. Very scary.

Another dose of “Fleur-Sense” and we find a secret panel…



…but instead of finding out where that goes, we instead shift to Lord Sabbath being menaced by a criminal cultist in a pin-striped suit who has a Mi-Go hanging around behind him like a bodyguard or mob bruiser. This book doesn’t UNDERSTAND Lovecraft creatures. At all. Merely seeing one of them would so unnerve you that you would cease to function on some level. Yet, here we are talking with them like it’s just a guy in a rubber Mi-Go suit.

Oh, yeah! And that’s the hero of The Call of Cthulhu. Here they’ve reduced him to a brain in a jar. Just…sad.




The Mi-Go want Lord Sabbath’s brain because he has glowing eyes, which mark him as a “chosen of the great old ones.” This smacks of so much role-playing game nonsense that I want to hurl the book into the nearest fireplace.

This is the part where the other investigators blow a hole in the cavern wall and rush in guns-a-blazing.
 

…just like Lovecraft would have never-ever written. The tone of this whole book is just like nails on the chalkboard to me. I get how in a game you have to even up the score between the monsters and the humans, but in one of the master’s horror stories, you don’t. The whole eerie dread he created came from this knowledge there was such a vast gulf between our frail mortality and the impossible, unknowable power of these entities.

But “bang! bang! bang! You’re dead monster-thing!”



And in the end it is.



The human agent takes poor “he deserved better than this” Inspector Lagrasse’s brain-in-alien-tupperware hostage until he can activate a secret catch in the wall that opens an escape tunnel. Then he throws him as a distraction…




…but that’s okay, as the Professor Wilmarth makes his dexterity check. Noyes gets away, of course, and the Miskatonic Project’s mod squad turns its sights to the future.



Which is fouling yet another member of the cast of the Call of Cthulhu’s story, sculptor Henry Wilcox. Seems he has been smoking a lot and is now turning to making giant replicas of the Horror in the Clay.




Is it just me, or does Heck’s Cthulhu look a bunch like Heck’s Mi-Go?

Anyway, this WASN’T continued, thankfully. The three issues in this arc appear to be the final three. I’ve found references to a Millennium “H.P.Lovecraft’s Cthulhu: The Whisperer in Darkness” three-parter, but I’m going to pretend that those are reprints of this mess or the guide adding the story title to the book’s title in confusion.

Because I want to believe that there aren’t any more of these out there. Otherwise I’m going to fail my own personal sanity check and go a little crazy myself.

Side note: there were two cards included with each issue. They were nothing to write home about. That mummy looks like the one out of the Johnny Quest cartoon.




1 comment:

  1. Great review! As a former Dungeon Master myself, I have to agree that there's a lot of crap out there that's obviously based on gaming sessions. The example that makes me grit my teeth is the first Dragonlance trilogy of novels. You can almost hear the DM telling the players what rolls they need to make. As for THIS particular piece of crap. . .MY GOD, THE ART! Heck isn't that bad of an artist, but between the inking and the goddamn YELLOWS and PINKS in a FU#$!NG CTHULU STORY, I give you credit for actually being able to make it through to the end. That $h!t ain't Lovecraft, son.

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