February 12, 2011

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Cthulhu Tales Volume 2

Written by Various Writers, including William Messner-Loebs, Steve Niles, and Mark Waid
Illustrated by Various Artists
Boom! Studios

It's odd but true that I've never actually read an H.P. Lovecraft story, despite watching movies, reading Mythos stories by other writers, and reading comic adaptations of this classic pulp writer who should be in my wheelhouse in terms of being part of a regular reading rotation.

For whatever reason, it's just never happened. Maybe I'll change that someday. In the meantime, however, I still enjoy seeing how other writers play in Lovecraft's creepy sandbox, especially in short story form, like this second volume of anthology comics from Boom! Studios.

I'm pleased to relate that the overall quality of these stories is very high, especially for an anthology. In general, I wish these stories had been longer. I realize that there's only so much room in a 22 page comic book, but perhaps doing two 11 pagers might have been a better idea. These writers have some pretty cool ideas going on, but sometimes there's just not enough room to peel the flesh from the bone, as it were. Still, given the space allotted, I think there's a lot of great twists on the Mythos, ranging from the timeless to the topical.

My favorite of the topical stories is the one that closes the volume, There Will Be Blood, by Mark Sable and Sergio Carrera. The invasion of Iraq has consequences that only a money-hungry corporation could misinterpret, with the protagonist finding his only way out is to condemn himself to the ranks of the damned. It's a great idea that brings to mind pulp writers who have used other, older wars to set up their stories.

A lot of the stories reference the Necronomicon, of course, but I like how none of them try to connect together. After all, who's to say there's only one book? It's always fun to see how writers use this linchpin, with Mark Waid probably being the most innovative this time around (How do people make theoretical breakthroughs? With a little help from their fiends.) Waid of course has the best splash page in the whole book, with a Cthulhu head playing psychologist asking about the patient's mother. It certainly got my attention!

There's definitely a sense of tradition in here in terms of horror story format. I am a sucker for the twist ending, and we get them here, drawing a direct line from the 1950s to today. In those tales, I keep waiting for a narrator to tell us to beware, but this is Cthulhu, not the Crypt. Michael Alan Nelson's On the Wagon sets the standard here for the anthology, with a twist that might just drive you to drink. It's safer that way.

While there are several well-known writers in this collection, I'm not familiar with the artists at all. A creator named Chee does a lot of the stories, and is probably the most solid of the contributors. Others try to be as straightforward as possible, which leaves things just a bit too bland for my taste. We also get an homage to Mike Mignola in a story that might not be too far away from the Hellboy universe. Overall, I wish the art was just a bit stronger and creepier, though props to the colorists, who do a very good job of making the art look stranger than it actually is. We see a lot of odd washes, garish contrasts, and other tricks that keep your eyes off balance. Given that this is the world of the Mythos, I think their choices were appropriate.

There's a story towards the end called the Cruise of Cthulhu, and while I certainly would recommend taking that trip, I'd definitely recommend this book to horror fans and mythos lovers. Cthulhu Tales is a solid anthology with a lot of neat takes on Lovecraft's ideas. I enjoyed this book a lot, and definitely want to read more in the series. Maybe after reading a bit of the original material first...if my mind can handle it...