Which is worse: Nightmares or haunting dreams when they become reality?
Story: Joe Brusha & Chas! Pangburn
Writer: Chas! Pangburn
Artwork: Juan Francisco Mota
Colors: Fran Gamboa with J.C. Ruiz
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
What They Say:
H.P. Lovecraft is regarded as the greatest horror writer of all time. His works are filled with terrifying stories and horrible monsters … fictional fantasies so frightening the mind can barely fathom them … or so they seemed. Lovecraft’s legacy, and the terrible dreams that birthed his stories, have been passed down to his great grandson … and he is quickly learning that the monsters are all too real.
Content (please note that portions of review may contain spoilers):
As he often spends most evenings, Henry once again finds himself in the library with pencil in hand, frantically scribbling the nightmarish images which have plagued him for far too many years, all in a vain attempt to exorcise his mind of these disturbing thoughts, and yet as he feverishly recites the mantra which accompanies this nightly ritual, it is the derisive comments of his blonde companion which makes his work ever more tiresome, with Spencer mocking the veracity of a heritage which he denied not too long ago. Yet before their conversation can become any more caustic than they usually are, it is the transcendent tones of their resident goddess which grabs their attention, forcefully standing a nondescript volume at the end of the table, its title hidden from view until Keres spins the book around and insinuates this is the dairy of his notable ancestor, containing the formative years during which he wrote what would later be called the Cthulhu Mythos. But as this surprised descendant admires the artistic skills of his predecessor, an impatient Holmes seizes the tome from his hands as she see a familiar illustration, that being the abominable creature which she and her uncle faced after she was taken in, only to be promptly admonished by Keres for opposing the reason she brought the journal, to allow Jones to learn about his frightful legacy from the source itself.
However, as a harried descendant confesses his frustration of not being able to read what he was so boldly presented, it is the chiding tone of Keres which prompts Spencer to reluctantly surrender the confiscated tome, her frustration readily apparent within a mocking response, wondering aloud why the omniscient Goddess of Death does not tell them what they need to know. It is upon this nagging complaint from which this blunt deity purposefully states it is not her place to directly interfere with mortal affairs, that is the reason she sought Lovecraft’s diary, for while his literary
works are thought to works of fiction, the personal journal of this writer recounts the real events, people and cities which he encountered during his travels for research, and while they may be mildly exaggerated, every word should be considered the truth. Yet as this entranced trio pour over the cryptic text, it is a perplexed Spencer who complains about the confusing narrative, with none able to follow how the author arrived at his current situation since Henry skipped to a climatic moment of the story, with Keres reluctantly agreeing to Holmes’ disparaging remark, causing Jones to flip back to the beginning, even as a haughty blonde appreciates this rare comment of praise, only to have the uncommon approval swiftly brushed away by a disapproving goddess, with the assembled ready to hear how Lovecraft began his unfortunate journey into the unknown.
When we saw Avril valiantly sacrifice herself at the end of Grimm Fairy Tales Volume Two #75 and the ominous Necronomicon secured by Henry for safekeeping, one might assume our beleaguered professor would see a reduction of nightmarish visions, the main nemesis of his delusion returned to an icy tomb, with the remaining otherworldly beings retreating to the darkness, biding their time until a new opportunity arose and the Realms being plagued by other sources of evil. Yet as Lovecraft: The Call of Cthulhu begins, it is clear story creators Joe Brusha and Chas! Pangburn have other intentions for the unlikely pair of monsters hunters in Jones and Holmes, with the former seemingly back to his dedication of documenting the foul images which burden his every hour, even as writer Pangburn attempts to mold an uncertain future for these bickering companions.
But as we dive back into the daily madness which is Henry’s life, readers cannot but chuckle due to Spencer’s condescending attitude toward her reluctant friend, a captivating woman humorously antagonizing an obsessed man, knowing this tiresome compulsion is the only way he can temporarily free his sanity from the burden of these menacing images, but at the same time, it is this constant familiarity which makes dedicated fans reluctant to proceed further, with a chance that the following story might be something we have seen before. It is upon this hesitancy whereby we are greeted by their cryptic mentor Keres, for while she may open an interesting venue to investigate how Lovecraft learned of these unwanted menaces through his journal, this safe departure escorts another problem, the aforementioned déjà vu lingering throughout the coming narrative due to the manner by which Pangburn unfolds the disturbing details.
Yet as we attempt to be intrigued by what is to come, it is the odd font choice from letterer Carlos M. Mangual which makes flashbacks with the original Lovecraft an almost illegible frustration, for while the semi-cursive style may adequately convey Howard writing in his diary, it is the minute lettering which makes it almost unreadable when shown in large paragraphs. While our eyes may adjust to the unusual display and allow us to understand the overall nature of these thoughts, it is only due to the digital nature of the review copy which permits much needed magnification to create a clearer focus, with this unknown effect to be addressed upon printed copies of this special, thus allowing a select few to enjoy the unification of word and image, even if the former must be necessarily enlarged, thus spoiling our delight from the unique visual nature of the latter.
However, it is within Howard’s frightening flashbacks where upon loyal fans cannot but notice a similarity from Pangburn’s prior special Necronomicon, but instead of the writer of that infamous tome observing the horrors of these otherworldly invaders, it is now Lovecraft being forced to watch as they commit foul deeds, which is strangely ironic since it mirrors the actions of fictional character Alhazred against his literary creator, Abdul becoming numbed to these grotesque sights and utilizing the events as a basis for the chronicle, while the latter used those terrors as motivation for future failed stories, eventually causing him to become a destitute wander. While it is interesting how Pangburn incorporates some of Lovecraft’s true history into the special, such as the death of his grandfather leading to financial failure of the family, the remainder of the narrative is frustratingly presented as a retelling of Henry’s adventures against those same nightmares, with the odd addition of Howard migrating to California to escape this forbidden knowledge an aberration from his real life. For those who admire the works of Lovecraft, they know he spent most of his life in New England, making this narrative alteration a strange oddity, particularly for someone who is saw his financial status sharply descended, and yet Howard somehow scrapped up enough money to escape across country, in order to become a formulaic drunkard and meet a woman, when he could have done the same in his own area. This makes confused readers wonder why a change in venue was necessary to find a solution to problems grounded on the East Coast, with none of these apparitions having followed him or arose in this new location, and yet somehow Lovecraft is able to subconsciously connect his mangled thoughts and find a mystical remedy beside him, then once again find fare for a return trip and then serendipitously create the relics Spencer has been guarding since the beginning. Pangburn takes advantage of the magical nature of their foes and Howard’s obsession to create an implausible closing for the story, and while we might have suspended our disbelief at the start, as each opportune piece compounds into a mountain of confusion, the building anxiety of how these problems will end creates an exasperating conclusion which seems ill suited for one of the most well known writers of horror fiction and the creator of an ongoing legacy.
One cannot but be impressed by the oppressive nature of the opening scene, Juan Francisco Mota’s smooth transition between panels wondrously lending to the nostalgia of an immense beast rising from the depths, even if we may chuckle at the onomatopoeic text which lends itself to be more comical than anxiety producing, the grotesqueness of these illustrations causes the audience to be repulsed by what we witness, made more gripping due to the sobering balance of nauseating tones contrasted against brief glimpses of light, allowing Fran Gamboa and J.C. Ruiz’s palette to appallingly convey what we dare not understand. Yet as those images become less threatening upon seeing them sketched in a notebook, it is Mota’s defined strain upon Henry’s stern face which causes us to return to reality, to then be distracted by the allure of scantily clad women, Spencer’s captivating figure in skin tight clothes appears tame when compared to the tantalizing view of Keres’ ample cleavage, her austere gaze is less intimidating since we cannot focus due to the purposeful tease of ample assets. However, as watch with interest as the trio bickers over Lovecraft’s diary, the audience cannot but have our sight sharpened when confronted by the horror which is the basis of the special, a stressful collection of disturbing colors and shocking images seems ridiculously normal, but given gripping substance as we see Howard’s reaction to the moments he surveys. It is Mota’s refined details upon the author’s face that reflects how an ordinary man is horrified by these events, for while the reader may be numbed to such events, it is these repeated shocked instances that grounds the horror due to these astonished reactions, allowing an experienced audience to realize what we might consider standard fare for our tastes, is something that should chill common people to the bone.
While Lovecraft: The Call of Cthulhu may attempt to present an interesting recollection of how the original Lovecraft was confronted by his glimpse into the unknown to a novice audience, it is from the view of an experienced reader who can clearly see this ancestral legacy is a recycled attempt to make something new, resulting in a special that is immediately exasperating once we understand the source of its tiresome material. Although captivating reactive images from a talented artist and immersive colors do keep our interest focused upon the page, it is the repetitive nature of seeing the same sights from a current generation that causes even these gruesome visual treats to elicit a burdensome sense of déjà vu, having seen the same moments, but from the quickly vanishing innocence of an inexperienced man. However, as too many leaps of providence plague this story with each passing page, it is opportunistic pieces to a complex puzzle falling into place which make the impossible for an ordinary man to understand far too formulaic to be mere convenience, causing the conclusion to be exhausting instead of exhilarating, leaving us with a sadly nostalgic story through which there should have been new discoveries instead of old ones.
Rating: T (Teen)
Released By: Zenescope
Release Date: November 15, 2023