Review by Frank Plowright
Gothic horror is a seriously under-used genre in comics, and with the honourable exception of Hellboy and associated characters, it’s most frequently via adaptation of the primary authors. Poe and Lovecraft’s best material has an underlying psychological tension, often underscored by repressed sexuality, and their persistent use of women in the role of victim leads to present-day accusations of misogyny. All in all it’s heady brew for Alan Moore to take on, having made his name in the USA by re-inventing horror comics in Swamp Thing.
Neonomicon is two separate but connected stories. ‘The Courtyard’ originated as Moore’s prose contribution to a horror anthology and is adapted by Antony Johnson for artist Jacen Burrows. A paranoid undercover investigator probing seemingly random killings he believes to be linked is drawn into a situation beyond his control. Burrows works directly from a Moore script for the longer ‘Neonomicon’, in which a pair of flawed investigators are lured into the seedy demonic undercurrents of Salem, Massachusetts. Moore pastes his references into his captions, connecting events to Lovercraft’s Chthulu continuity, but implicitly highlighting the sexual elements that Lovecraft preferred to gloss over. It’s an oddly disturbing experience.
As ever with Moore, there’s a consideration of character and attention to detail beyond that applied by most comic writers, with elements told visually. A prominent character, one Johnny Carcosa, slips between dimensions, leaving his 2-D image spray-painted to a wall. His mouth is permanently concealed beneath a veil, a simple and effective unsettling device. Burrows has a static style that isn’t the ideal choice for a story heavily reliant on real life situations, but he never stints on the background detail, which draws the eye away from the occasional mis-proportioned figure.
The two stories in Neonomicon are bleaker than any Alan Moore has written since the 1980s, and not for the prudish or faint of heart. Their relentless unpleasantness ensures they’ll not be ranked among Moore’s best, and talk of enjoying the stories is perverse, but they linger, and in idle moments in the darkness you’ll find yourself reflecting on them.