Story: Joe Brusha & David Wohl
Writer: David Wohl & Chas! Pangburn
Artwork: Alessandro Uezu, Massimiliano La Manno & Dario Carrasco
Colors: Maxflan Araujo & Robby Bevard
Letters: Taylor Esposito
What They Say:
Henry Lovecraft, descendant of the notorious horror author, must journey with Spencer Holmes to find the most ancient and evil tome in the history of mankind – the Necronomicon. Believed to contain horrific eldritch magic, this book is also sought by another–a sinister and powerful being who will stop at nothing to attain his prize.
Content (please note that portions of review may contain spoilers):
They called him Mad, and yet the man named Abdul did not hate the moniker since it was earned after watching detestable acts which would drive most people insane, with his innate comprehension giving this destined scribe the ability to chronicle the horrors which he saw, within a grimoire which entitled the Kitab Al-Azif, or as others would later call the Book of the Dead and more infamously – the Necronomicon. Alhazred still remembers the ill-fated night ten years ago when he was but a simple shepherd, recognizing his place in the world as he calmly escorted his flock under the guidance of the stars, and yet it was upon that evening when this placated man looked up and saw the strange omen of a red light shining in the sky, urging him to leave his herd behind and slowly approach for a closer look, with voices echoing in the calm air, forever becoming a moment which he would later regret. For as he peered over the crest of the hill, Abdul witnessed cloaked men chanting in a strange tongue and performing a foul ritual, sacrificing their own until a portal of sickening green energy opened and allowed a strange abomination to step through, with the expectant followers willingly accepting their desire to die under this summoned clawed hand, all in order to feed its insatiable appetite. However, as this grotesque sight became too much for the horrified man to tolerate without uttering a word in disgust, the once enthralled minions broke free from their stupor and attempted to punish Alhazred for this unforgivable sacrilege, only to find themselves the ones being torn asunder by the one they worshiped, with the yith tearing all apart with extreme prejudice. As the multi-eyed cephalopod and this lone survivor stood among the bloody mess, the frightening echoes of its ominous voice resonated through the night, praising this human for its ability to stand and hold eye contact with its foreign nature, proving Abdul had the mental constitution to record the dark magics which prevail within this realm and also act as a herald for itself and many others, with his new duty to thereafter to become an agent for inscription and chaos.
In the present day, Spencer and Henry find themselves in Morocco, with the beautiful blonde questioning her companion how they will find someplace called the Nameless City, but as this former professor corrects her by stating it is not in this country but somewhere in the Sahara, he clarifies Keres helped him to decipher the mess Hastur left behind in his mind, and with clues found in his journal it allowed them to narrow down the site. As Holmes caustically quips that they have no idea where to look in such a vast desert, hoping to stumble on an unknown location which is supposed to the hiding place for the Necronomicon, plus this being a race against time to beat the King in Yellow as he searches for the same foul tome, and their failure thereby meaning the end of the world, her bemused observations tease Jones in that he makes it all sound too easy. However, as Henry calmly reminds Spencer he was a former English professor and not a cartographer, so pinning down locations is not his strongest suit, he still was a dutiful planner, having the foresight to arrange for a local guide to show them the way to the place in question, with a man promptly introducing himself as Mehdi and asking if they were Professor Lovecraft and Miss Holmes, with his keen insight wondering if the man’s surname was real or a nickname, stating it is appropriate for where they are going. After many miles into the sandy terrain, their escort declares the location they desire is just over a nearby ridge, anxiously proclaiming he will not go any further since there are great evils in that place, and while the cautious partners check over their mystical equipment, they soon find themselves alone as Mehdi runs off, frightening by what lies in wait at the Nameless City.
Necronomicon, when one hears the name of that infamous tome, we cannot but think of the various stories associated with it through Lovecraftian lore, or more familiarly its integration as a primary source of demonic problems when a protagonist finds the hated book and their problems escalate from there, such as in the classic franchise The Evil Dead, where this corrupted grimoire plays a prominent role in the problems for the heroes, and yet numerous other forms of media have also utilized this iconic plot device to propel a story toward with either minimal success or tragic failure. So when fascinated readers were first introduced to the descendant of its creator within Grimm Spotlight: Lovecraft’s Legacy, with the amusing and quintessential name of Henry Jones, the audience knew it was only a matter of time before we would witness the emergence of this heretical compendium, allowing the current story arc to expand past the Great Old Ones and into a world made strangely commonplace due to the influence of pop culture. Yet as story creators Joe Brusha and David Wohl prepare to introduce their interpretation of a well-known motivational device into this namesake special, it is the weighty responsibility of writers Wohl and Chas! Pangburn to meaningfully developing what a jaded audience may think they know into a surprising story that incorporates uncertain protectors’ struggle against one who would cease glory for himself.
However, this promising title is propelled forward upon a shaky foundation, with the tragic repercussions of Grimm Fairy Tales Volume Two #75 still fresh in loyal readers’ minds and the implications of those stirring moments having occurred after this noteworthy special so those familiar with that landmark issue will soon realize any pivotal scenes which could have been narratively challenging for future events readily lose their sincere importance, since we know what will happen due to the influence of the aforementioned book. As such, while Wohl and Pangburn valiantly attempt to create surprising scenes of Spencer and Henry facing impossible odds, an expectant audience sadly realizes they know the outcome of this title does not matter if they have read the milestone book, and while we may be mildly anxious as to how they will escape the events set in motion by their powerful adversary, it is the burdensome knowledge of who survives which diminishes any tension we normally would have felt during an unexpected telling. Then to compound any enjoyment we might have had for this projected story, it is the exasperating choice of background color for the narrative boxes which makes them barely legible, black text and deep purple surroundings creating a homogeneous environment that makes Alhazred’s monologue very difficulty to read, if it were not for the ability to magnify essential areas due to the digital nature of preview copies, making a full viewing of the whole page infuriating since one has to return to normal mode in order to see the entirety of the artistic vision.
While Wohl and Pangburn could have simply woven a candid story around the adventure of Holmes and Lovecraft to retrieve the namesake tome, it is their inventive expansion of Alhazred’s background which causes readers to build a modicum of sympathy for this coerced author, with the events of his journeys loosely based around Lovecraft’s short story History of the Necronomicon, the eventful travels beginning when a simple shepherd became too curious for his own good, leading to the downfall of someone who was satisfied with his path in life, and that deviation forming the serendipitous corruption which was necessary to create a detached observer of detestable atrocities. Although one might have felt some compassion for this unfortunate victim, we cannot but be taken aback by how an inexperienced man so easily accepts his new role, perhaps captivated by the menace of the initial confrontation, and yet for each encounter of these foul beings forcing their will upon others, there seems to be little in the way of guilt or a lack of compassion as Abdul watches his fellow members of humanity fall under the tooth and claw of these invaders, callously watching as people are eaten alive, showing little or no reaction to these grisly horrors. Perhaps it is a perverse version of Stockholm syndrome, trusting he will not become one of those crushed done as commanded, endlessly recording the foul acts and mystical rituals utilized to summon the visitors, observing and documenting for those who come after him to preserve a grim history, until he too succumbs to the madness and is finally given a just reward.
However, in drastic contrast to one who dutifully obeyed, it is Spencer and Henry’s first solo adventure without Keres which feels detached in a different way, with the beautiful blonde protector purposefully forging forward while the former professor seems disinterested by what lies ahead, only accompanying to correct a familial mistake and rid himself of the nightmares which still plague him, making his overall attitude seem misplaced for someone who must guard the world against evil due to his newly adopted name. As such, while Holmes is forthright in her devotion to save humanity, perhaps due her responsibilities being placed upon delicate shoulders by the Goddess of Death, it appears as if Jones it treating this meaningful excursion as an academic exercise, conveniently forgetting what the King in Yellow did to him during their last painful encounter, almost as if was another of his nocturnal delusions. The plodding nature of the journey is reflected by Henry’s bored expression, a complete opposite of his pop culture namesake where we are exposed to something as blasé as dusty archaeology, only to find the excitement of exploration turn the audience’s temperament into something which builds upon what is seen on an expansive screen. It is humorous to see Holmes lead the way, exasperated by Lovecraft’s lack of enthusiasm for the danger they are in, constantly needing to remind her partner of a powerful arsenal of mystical artifacts at his disposal, supposedly making Lovecraft more powerful than a fledgling hero who is guided by a glowing power stone, making us wonder if humanity will survive if we have to rely on these inexperienced saviors, ever hesitant and not knowing if they will live to see the next minute, if only they could learn to cooperate and harness these immense powers.
While invested readers may be concerned for the future of our heroes, it is the bold artistic style of Alessandro Uezu that causes the audience to become immediately awed by the opening page, an ominous depiction of the namesake book seemingly taunting the reader for what is to come, the clever usage of perspective allowing for a slightly unnerving guardian skull of this grimoire to mock any who might turn the pages, with Robby Bevard’s limited illumination and dark colors amplifying what unease we might have had and securely hold us within this frenzied world. Yet when we first see this unfortunate author, his piercing blue eyes seem to be transfixed upon some unknown future, with a clarity which appears unnatural, only to be revealed when we first wander into his world of horrors, the stoic usage of heavy outer linework matched against finely detailed interiors adds a frightening elegance against the nuanced details of the close-ups, readying us for the horrors to come. Although we may prepared, the sickening green energies from Bevard’s palette are almost nauseating, especially when surrounded by dim pools of crimson, made more so upon gazing at the foul summoned abomination, with Uezu’s chilling need to overemphasize each horrid detail with the same attention for depth, making the yith almost appear as if it is threatening to crawl off the page. However, as Alhazred’s journey progresses, it is the jarring anachronism during his dutiful observations which stares at knowing readers, since his forced servitude begins in 721 A.D., it is strange how this scribe is able to use a modern fountain pen with metal nib, when such refined craftsmanship for the writing instrument was not patented until the mid-nineteenth century, so the author should have been using a crude reed pen. Although we could attribute this change due to the visitors bringing writing supplies from another dimension, the odd oversight only adds to the otherworldly charm of the story.
As we attempt to steady ourselves from the chill we have just witnessed, it is the pleasingly delicate linework of Massimiliano La Manno which presents a remarkable contrast to the harshness of the past, gently sloping backgrounds presenting a serene yet detailed setting, allowing Maxflan Araujo’s peaceful pastels to add to the tranquility of the mood, but as we watch our heroes make their way toward the camera, it is Henry’s glazed over and disinterested expression which ridicules the boldness of Spencer’s forthright determination, there after setting the tone for their adventure, with the professor appearing to be bored by the whole escapade. While we may be impressed by the sharp profiles of the actors and Holmes’ seductive curves tightly packed into her costume, one cannot but be distracted by the constant lack of enthusiasm from Lovecraft, only showing a spark of interest once Spencer’s amulet glows upon her prominently displayed chest, made more scintillating due to a sunburst filled with action lines, all as he stares with what might be interpreted as creepy perversion, as if an older teacher is staring at an attractive younger student, if this were still an academic setting. It is only when they arrive at the Nameless City do the supposed saviors finally have matching faces etched with compassion, with eyes narrowed in focus and the tonal palette dimmed to reflect the grimness of the environment, and while we may chuckle at the supposed alien remains, the audience cannot but wonder if this resolve will remain, or will it quickly disappear once Henry finds his interest brushed aside by an impossible notion.
With the critical climax of the special approaching, it is an informative recollection of the warped past that allows Dario Carrasco’s fantastic depictions to reveal how a wide visual display can be both intense and fascinating, the opening panel setting an anxious tone due to the creepy distinctions of weathered hands handling an ominous blade, long unclean nails making us uncomfortable once Maxflan Araujo’s provocative balance of colors magnifies the unease, sparks of energy and glints of light to reflect the sharpness of the weapon amid a looming background, plus clever placement of effect text adding to the flavor to the moment, until it becomes all too clear what is waiting. While we may be mildly irritated by the clichéd moment of a priest readying the blade, it is the dramatic impact with onomatopoeic text that makes this moment so chilling, allowing Araujo’s ominous application of strangling tones to focus the audience’s attention to feel the end of a life, with darker colors making this central vision more prominent upon a full view once the camera pulls back, lighter tones de-emphasizing the same cruel act happening on other altars of sacrifice. Although we may be stunned by the melancholic reveal of this city of horror, the dullness of colors making us feel a monotony to this endless cruelty, it is the inset panels of a dutiful Alhazred which lends a certain gravitas upon the double spread, his stern gaze over a quickly filling manuscript is sobering, he unaffected by the horror happening around him, as if it is a normal within his brutal world, only to have a morbid satisfaction from the reader as this author finds himself faced with something he never realized was possible, within a vibrant burst of savagery.
Necronomicon valiantly attempts to project an intimidating tone by challenging the reader with dueling scenes of the present and past, and yet it is an informed audience who approaches this special with significant knowledge of what happens afterwards, thereby spoiling any surprises which could have been formative for future narratives and creating a contrite conclusion for this boldly influential work. While captivating artwork and enthralling colors nudge us toward lingering fascination, there are some regretful inconsistencies that make the journey not fully immersive, forcing the audience to pause at inopportune moments and wonder what is unfolding before us, even as the narrative attempts to boldly forge forward with gallant determination. Yet as collapsing teamwork between supposed partners makes us to question if they can succeed if one falls, it is the heavy reliance upon a singular person which makes their failure inevitable, but as frustration fuels their next journey, we have cause to worry if humanity is safe in their unsteady hands.
Rating: T (Teen)
Released By: Zenescope
Release Date: September 13, 2023