Halloween 2017 Post-A-Day, Day 18:
This is more like it
Story – William Messner-Loebs
Art and colors – Andrew Ritchie
Letterer – Marshall Dillon
Editor – Mark Waid
Here is a unique new adventure story using Lovecraft’s beasties, locales, characters, and items to tell a different kind of story that doesn’t feel dismissive of their import, yet does not approach his level of nihilistic horror…and it’s still a good story.
I would expect no less from a seasoned professional like Messner-Loebs, however the surprise comes from the art of Andrew Ritchie. I will admit to kind of hating it. It is thick and blobby, with certain panels looking less detailed than a dollar-store coloring book page. Yet by the end of the comic, I found myself wrapped up in the goings on, so I must have come to terms with his style on some level.
Sure, there were some odd character heads and weird facial expressions, but once you just accept that the art is not going to rise to a different level of detail, there is a crude empathic thrust that comes through. Let me show you what I mean.
Our tale begins with a trader in 1924’s Arabia riding through the unforgiving desert on a horse. Note the art here as examples of what I’m talking about.
He reaches camp and sits down to read a letter. This is not our protagonist, but instead is his father. The entire story is told via flashback, with intercuts back to the father to show his reaction to his son’s lengthy description of his life and trials in America.
Meet Henry Said, a young student at the Miskatonic University. Henry came here to study engineering at the behest of his father. However, Henry has a passion for languages, of which he already speaks several.
As an audience-member I immediately like Henry. He is kind, earnest, hardworking and good-natured. He also is agonizingly lonely. The cultural and racial differences between him and his fellow students are such that he appears to be having a rough go at making friends.
I enjoy that the book shows us so much about Henry. It lets us peer into his personality. He is unassuming and tries to do the right thing. I like Henry and genuinely worry what is in store for him. This is a Lovecraft-themed something or other, right? Heroes don’t often have happy endings from these types of stories.
Thankfully Henry won’t be alone for much longer. His skill with languages lands him a job teaching a football star French and it leads him into an adventure he will never forget.
Because our football star hangs out with a group of eccentric intellectuals, a group FULL of HPL’s main characters. (And Carter appears to be a stand-in for HPL himself)
That is just great stuff for a Lovecraftian like myself. Every name dropped makes me smile wider and wider.
Henry only has eyes for one person, however.
He is quite the hit with Mr. Carter, after the gentleman is finished arguing with Mr. Danforth about the Starry Wisdom cult, that is. He proceeds to be a generous host to Mr. Said.
Perhaps too generous.
Henry loses his job at the bowling alley due to his hungover condition, but not to worry…
Randolph Carter has something special in mind for the young man. After being treated by Rachel and Maxie to dinner that is, where Henry stuns them into silence with the frank brutality of his upbringing.
What Carter proposes is a new type of career path for Henry, but one infinitely more dangerous than any he’s undertaken and much more damaging than he could know. A job that seems very simple on the surface..
…but pays handsomely.
On the way back, the three friends stop to skinny dip in the lake. Henry is at first reluctant, but something about Rachel’s nakedness and abandon encourages the young man to reckless action. And there must be a metaphor here for how deeply the innocent Henry is getting involved with temptations that will have long consequences for him.
Because of course the book he is supposed to translate is none other than the dangerous Necronomicon of the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazared. And while at first the librarian seems fine with Henry’s long study of that tome…
…something changes his mind…
…someTHING, or someONE.
Whatever the source of this sudden reversal, it means Henry is out a job. He confides in his new friends when they find him, inconsolable, hovering outside the library.
Plans are made and discarded. Motives are discussed and contemplated. In the end there can be only one method of obtaining the book they need.
That night, the three of them attempt a daring robbery. Henry is to take care of the dogs with some sleepy-time laced meat treats. Unfortunately, something had taken care of the dogs in a more permanent fashion.
And the trio’s plans take a decidedly more direct approach.
Professor Armitage is walking as if under the influence of hypnosis and these odd fellows have a hold of the Necronomicon. Henry acts in an unwise and decidedly bold manner, rushing the car they are in...
…and leaping aboard. He grapples with one of the men and then realizes that there is an odd occupant in this car.
Yuck! Also around here I forgave a bunch of the art issues just for giving me this very sequence and what follows. Because Henry isn’t leaving without that book…
…and that fake Professor starts looking more and more horrifying…
…to say nothing of the more clothed passengers of this car.
Lucky for Henry, there is a friend following so he has a place of safety to leap to.
Not so lucky for front-seat passenger Professor Armitage, I assume. (the book doesn’t really say, but that “car way up in the air” thing can’t be good.)
We end with our three friends celebrating their victory…although I have a feeling much more will be in store for them.
But not much more. Sadly, this was a four-issue mini and I must admit to owning a second copy of this first issue…in my NON-CRAPBOX book boxes. I bought the first issue around the time of the great price increase, in which books were gouging me out of the market. Sadly the $3.99 pricetag made me say goodbye after that first issue. Nine years later, if I can find them at half off or less, I might take a dive on the rest of the series.
For another, better take on this same book and series, check out this piece by myfriend Benjamin Herman over at In My Not So Humble Opinion.