October 28, 2011

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10 Days of Halloween Horror: Cthulhu Tales Volume 3

Welcome to day seven of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror 2011!  We'll be featuring horror-related reviews right up until the big day!  You can find the Halloween Horror posts for Panel Patter here, and don't forget to check out the Book Stew for book-book horror, too!

Written by Various Authors, including William Messner-Loebs and Brian Augustyn
Illustrated by Various Artists
Boom! Studios

The madness continues in this third collection of stories related to and inspired by the world of H.P. Lovecraft.  In this series of cautionary tales, one can learn a lot about how to interact with Cthulhu and company.  Watch as a man learns the value of sacrifice to keep the Old Gods at bay while another unintentionally dooms the earth in his attempt to outshine Carnegie, Morgan, and the other robber barons.  See what happens when reality television producers scrape the barrel and try to film what man was not meant to know!  Beware computer viruses with sinister images, and whatever you do, don't go into an ancient temple if you're a racist imperialist and never assume your religion is the dominant one.  Finally, be sure to give crazed cultist moms a wide berth, make sure you're not related to anyone living near Arkham, and for God's sake, stay out of space!

All of the above are little snippets relating to the stories told in this four issue, nine-story collection that continues to use the Mythos as a backdrop but do not attempt any kind of internal continuity.  Like the FUBAR 2 anthology I reviewed earlier this week, this series uses a central theme (Lovecraft's universe) and allows the creators free reign from that point.  The result are tales that run from the traditional horror story to witty commentary on today's society to a twist on the gotcha ending that I totally did not see coming.  There is a great variety in the feel of these stories, with each one exploring the idea of madness brought on by the Mythos in a way that is distinctive--and of a very high quality to boot.

My favorite section in this book was definitely those from issue 6.  Messner-Loebs' twisted take on reality television is a riot from start to finish, and was just the right length.  It's joined by the gotcha story which I don't want to talk about because you need to appreciate it on the page, and closes with a dedicated I/T technician who soon learns--far too late--that some problems are better left unsolved.  I love the idea that he's every bit the investigator, though the world is cyberspace instead of, say, an old mansion or set of ruins. It's a great touch, and writer Glen Cadigan deserves a lot of kudos for the concept.

This does not mean that the other stories weren't good.  Far from it.  It's just those three were some of the best writing in the three trades of Cthulhu Tales I've read so far.  I liked the opening story, "The Doorman" by Michael Alan Nelson quite a lot, and Augustyn shows his horror chops haven't left him by comparing the British Empire to far greater empires too unspeakable to name.  That was such a nice touch, giving both a strong story and commentary at the same time.  One of the closing stories, "The Elite" from Christine Boylan, is just damned creepy.  Does the man accept his fate or is his hand forced?  We might never know.

As with the other anthologies in this series, there aren't a lot of big-name creators involved.  Messner-Loebs is probably the biggest one in the collection, with most of the others (especially the artists) coming from the usual crew of Boom! writers.  They do good work, even if they are unheralded.  I'd prefer a bit more variety in the artwork, but those presented here are solid if unspectacular.  It would have been cool to get an indie creator or two to take a whack at the Mythos, but that might just be my personal taste talking.

I can't remember if it was the second volume or in the similar anthology series Zombie Tales that I noted that I wanted the stories to be a bit longer.  That's definitely the case here, as we move from three story issues to two story issues.  The additional space helped a lot, I think.  These creators need room to breathe, and 8 pages often isn't enough.  11 or so is just about right.  I hope that continues into volume four when I get a chance to read it.

Cthulhu Tales is a great anthology for horror fans and those who enjoy the Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft.  It might be hard to find the trade, but luckily, you can get these issues for $1.99 each at Graphicly.  You totally need to grab issue 6, but why not get them all?  I think you'll be glad you did, and maybe your death at the hands of the Ancient Ones will be swift.  Or maybe not...