June 9, 2011

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Necromicon

Written by William Messner-Loebs
Illustrated by Andrew Ritchie
Boom! Studios

Henry, a foreign exchange student at Miskatonic University finds it rather hard going until his Arabian heritage is useful in translating a particular book called the Necronomicon for a cabal of people who think there are secrets to be had that man was not meant to know--but should.

As our young hero is drawn further into this world of sheer horror, he has only two true friends: a jock with an eye for adventure and a young Jewish woman who is both intelligent and beautiful--and in love with the jock. Can the three of thme decipher the mysteries of the strange book before monsters take over all of Miskatonic--and perhaps the world?

I picked up Boom!'s Cthuhlu Tales not all that long ago, and liked it well enough to give one of their other Mythos books a try. This was the one on the library shelf and looked like it didn't require reading any past books in the world that Boom! has created. I remembered Messner-Loebs as being a solid writer as well, so this looked to be as good as any a place to jump on board and see if I wanted to go back and start reading the others.

If they are anything as good as Necronomicon, I am totally hooked.

Despite being hamstrung a bit by the artwork of Ritchie, whose character designs tend to be both distorted and blob-like, Messner-Loeb's story is quite solid. We meet a narrator who seems sane enough and grounded by his father and his faith. As time goes on, however, the corruption of the Necronomicon and the Elder Gods falls upon him, so that by the end, we can easily question the soundness of his thinking, a key element for the plot to work for the reader.

I also like the way that Messner-Loebs cleverly uses the racism and bigotry of the era to solidly place this story within its time period and make the characters far more likely to do bad and/or stupid things. While it may be off-putting for some to read some of the dialog, keep in mind that we're talking about a time period when such comments were openly expressed (instead of being covertly hidden) and such feelings would definitely impact on how these characters interact with each other. I give him a lot of credit for recognizing that and making it part of the story.

While there is certainly a lot of horror, death, and madness within Necronomicon, it is also at heart a book about the friendship of Henry, Maxie, and Rachel. None of them quite fit in this world, and as a result, they are drawn together but cannot escape the reality of the times or the insanity of the Necronomicon and everything surrounding it. In the end, it basically breaks them, and even the survivors are forever changed, forever reminded of the terrible nature of the Mythos world.

That, I think, is what makes Necronomicon better than some other Mythos-based stories I've read. We certain are there for the Lovecraftian elements, but they don't exist in a vacuum. Messner-Loebs uses them as a base and tells a good story. Sometimes I think writers think anything can be cool if you add an Elder God or two, but that's not true at all. You have to make people care about those who are caught in the deadly web of despair and deceit. Messner-Loebs gets that, and it shows.

As I mentioned above, I really do wish I liked the art better on this one. Ritchie's work is too formless for my taste, taking emotion and thrill out of the book. He looks like he's going for a bit of a Mignola vibe, but the results are off, as though the Hellboy creator's inks got caught in the rain. Maybe Ritchie draws like that here to give a sense of decay, but I wasn't able to get into it at all. That was especially a shame when we dealt with the horrors of the worlds of the Elder Gods. So much potential muddied up by vague renderings! I'm hoping for better in other Mythos books.

Necronomicon was one of the best horror books I've read in awhile, and I'm definitely looking forward to more. I can't speak for its faithfulness to the Mythos proper, which believe it or not I've never actually read. As a story however, despite some art issues, this book is really, really good. If you are a fan of creepy comics, put this one on your list. You won't regret it--except perhaps in your nightmares...