Written by Alan Moore.
Illustrated by Jacen Burrows.
Avatar Press, 2010.
This book is several things.
It is a kinky H.P. Lovecraft worshiping Cthulhu Mythos pulp story, with endless name checks. It is a raw, meaty slab of new Alan Moore story. It is a meta-narrative that discusses the possibilities of linguistic based psychedelic experience. It is some high concept, dark science fiction short story. It was a piece of work made to pay off Alan Moore’s tax bill.
In my opinion all of those statements are true. This is an example of why Alan Moore is a master craftsman. The panel layouts, pacing and dialogue are top notch. Burrows’ art is excellent. The ideas that are at work here are intellectually rewarding and inventive. The stories mirror the Weird Tales formula that they are based on, down to the morbid endings that push the indescribable horror by just showing their effects, their aftermath.
This book collects issues 1-4 of the Neonomicon series as well as the color version of a one shot titled The Courtyard that was published back in 2003. The collection clocks in at 176 pages.
The first story, The Courtyard, follows a special investigator with a special talent for anomaly theory: the connection of seemingly unrelated events to recognize the especially hidden patterns in them. He becomes too deeply immersed in his investigation of a series of seemingly isolated ritual murders with very specific and horrid details. He goes on the trail of a special drug that he believes to be the key connecting all of these murders. The drug turns out to be a language, the Aklo language, which can produce terrifying hallucinations that change one forever. Bad things happen as a result of his experience of the Aklo trip, produced courtesy of a yellow veil-wearing weirdo with a lisp.
Neonomicon continues the investigation with a pair of special agents, a white female and a black male. Working to uncover just what drove the previous agent off the deep end, first they bust a punk rock club that has an Aklo connection, then they investigate a Cthulhu specialty store that has a backroom of sex toys that would scare away the most jaded of porn stars. From there they infiltrate a bizarre sex cult and the really bizarre starts to happen.
This is an adult book, obviously. The heavy amount of Cthulhu mythos references here is incredible. There are several on every page. What is most striking is that the story treats the mythos as a literary phenomenon just as it is in the real world. The story is not located in some world where the mythos things are a functioning reality. The story is instead set in our world with the same questions about the reality of these mythos forces that have been raised by Kenneth Grant or George Hay. In fact, in the scene that takes place in the mythos specialty store/secret sex shop, the female agent picks up a copy of Kenneth Grant’s The Magical Revival where Burrows has actually taken the time to draw the book’s actual cover. Burrows also lends his considerable talents to the construction of the strange sex toys that are featured in the back of the sex shop. Even S. T. Joshi’s (a Lovecraft scholar) biography is seen at the end of the story.
Every element of the setting is geared towards our own shared reality where the Lovecraft et al stories are part of a small literary movement with the implication that it was just a creative writing project that got turned into pop cultural productions of various sorts, from plush animals to speculative fiction to sex toys to germinal materials for musical sub-sub-subgenres and cultic activities. Moore’s use of the Aklo language as a linguistic equivalent of a drug was genius, as was his development of a strangely compelling philosophy of time based on hidden realities, most of which I have to admit I do not understand.
I have only read this book once. I plan on reading it again in a couple of weeks. I was blown away by the sheer amount of mythos stuff he was able to wedge in the story without having it seem forced. The story didn’t just drop references through the text, but constantly built on them as plot elements. The characters themselves demonstrated different levels of competency with mythos materials, making the story blend in that Moore layered approach by having surface readings in-story characters supply exposition to explain the points that can be used by more knowledgeable readers (or those willing to do the research) to appreciate the deeper concepts.
By using the form of the mythos as a setting for a story, Alan Moore demonstrates why he is an unconscionably good writer, much the way that he was able to take public domain ideas for League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Lost Girls and produce literary works that, in my opinion, rival the original works they were based on.
I must admit to being heavily read in the mythos literature. I have read all the Lovecraft stories and most of the Chaosium collections that have been put out. Is my enjoyment of this book derived from my knowledge/borderline obsession with the mythos material? I would venture to say that Lovecraft fans will enjoy this at least 300 percent more than those who have never read a word of Lovecraft. That being said, if you are a Moore fan you have probably read at least a DAW paperback collection of short stories. Even if you have never read any Lovecraft, you will dig this as long as you accept that you are getting Alan Moore doing an Avatar published book and you know what that means.
On top of that it’s Alan Freaking Moore. Isn’t that enough?