Ancient deities and arcane madness: three great modern comics inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft
The power of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction lives on to this day because of its uniqueness and Lovecraft’s ability to conjure up a true sense of archaic horror. It speaks volumes that his name and stories are still discussed and experienced so frequently in the modern age. There is even a video gaming coming out soon that appears to faithfully adapt his most famous short story, Call of Cthulhu (which isn’t the first game to attempt this, either).
One key and recognisable Lovecraft theme is his focus on tentacular sea creatures as the basis for his ancient Gods. On this, Lovecraft once wrote:
‘I have hated fish and feared the sea and everything connected with it since I was two years old.’
Revealing a deep fear but also an intense fascination for the sea and the creatures that dwell within, which I myself share.
It is themes such as the above, as well as his layered mythology and depictions of intense madness that make such a mark on the reader and which make his stories so fascinating. This and many more of his tropes have influenced countless authors and storytellers throughout the decades.
In the world of comics, specifically, there are a large handful of titles that are actively utilising and paying homage to Lovecraft’s themes. Three of these comics in particular stand out to me both in exceptional quality and in the way in which they handle Lovecraft’s themes (the fact that all three are from Image Comics is pure strange coincidence, I promise, and was noticed after concluding this article).
Where possible, I have avoided any major spoilers, so that readers can enjoy these comics for themselves. However, in order to discuss some of the God-like creatures within these narratives, some significant plot points are discussed.
Monstress (2015 to present)
Writen by Marjorie Liu, Art by Sana Takeda
By far my favourite of the three comics featured here, Liu and Takeda’s Monstress is a truly astounding work. Liu’s master storytelling combined with Takeda’s luxurious art combine to form the best comic out there at the moment in any genre, in my view (with Southern Bastards and The Goddamned not far behind).
Monstress is the tale of Maika Halfwolf – a girl with one arm who has an ancient God dwelling inside of her. Set in an alternate China of the early 1900s (with a beautiful recurring art deco theme), this is world where a group of sorceresses known as the Cumea commit brutal genocide on half-breeds known as Arcanics. Maika utilises her deity and her own brutal resolve to take bloody revenge upon the Cumea for the death of her mother, Moriko Halfwolf. This is also a world where the ghosts of giant, ancient Gods wander the Earth, which can be seen by those around them, but which don’t appear to take any notice of any observing life forms.
It’s perhaps evident already just how draped in Lovecraftian themes Monstress is. The God inside Maika – called Monstrum – is made up of endless tentacles and thousands of eyes. It’s a wrathful and proud God, which speaks directly to Maika and projects its tentacles out of the stump of her arm, in order to feed on living creatures (marking a sacrificial need that can be found in many ancient deities). There is also the other, now dead Gods who wander the Earth in ghostly forms, each of whom hold their own distinctive look. This mirrors Lovecraft’s own multi-deity mythology, in which certain Gods return to the world after centuries of slumber, just as Monstrum does in this narrative.
Both Liu and Takeda are well known for their intelligent and beautiful comics, which includes Marvel’s X-23, which is next up on my personal reading list. There’s a core feminist lilt to Liu’s narratives that is crucial in modern comics. There’s also a sever brutality to Monstress that is wonderfully refreshing and especially shocking when set amidst a world of sometimes very cute characters, such as children who are half human and half fox (the adorable and innocent Kippa).
Read this if you love:
- Strong and brutal female characters
- Rich and textured mythology
- Stunning, Asian-themed art
- The fascinating idea that one could harness the power of a God
Monstress Volume One, which is titled Awakening, is available now. Issue #10 of Monstress goes on sale on 22nd February 2017 and will be reviewed by The Nerd Recites going forward.
Monstress: Volume One
Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, Monstress tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.
- View item
Southern Cross (2016 to present)
Written by Becky Cloonan, Art by Andy Belanger
Cloonan and Belanger’s Southern Cross is a murder mystery about a woman (Alex Braith) who boards a spaceship tanker destined for Titan in order to uncover the truth about what happened to her dead sister. While the narrative stays mostly within the structure of a whodunnit, the mysteries escalate as the plot thickens, leading to a very Lovecraftian conclusion that brings films like Event Horizon to mind.
What makes this narrative so Lovecraftian is mainly the creature towards Volume One’s close, which is described by a character as ‘The Great Devourer’ who will provide eternal life through everyone living forever inside the the membrane of its host. If you’ve heard this all-consuming hive-mind mythology before, that’s because a hundred different SF novels and films have used it already (most recently, Doctor Strange used this with Dormammu), but what makes Southern Cross different and worthwhile is its crime fiction-stance, as well as its layered and suspenseful use of the gravity drive, which causes strange apparitions to appear to Alex en route to Titan.
This adds a real dimension of ambiguous madness to the narrative, in how Alex is unsure whether she is losing her mind, or if there really is some supernatural mystery behind her sister’s death. As can be seen from the image below, The Great Devourer itself is a very Lovecraftian beast in its tentacular visage, and also in how it can project its thoughts and will into the minds of humans.
Read this if you love:
- Murder mysteries
- Terrifying journeys into the darkest reaches of space
- Life-consuming space deities
Volume One of Southern Cross is available now and Volume Two will be released on 3rd May 2017.
Southern Cross: Volume One
Now boarding: Southern Cross, tanker flight 73 to Titan. Alex Braith is tracing her sister’s steps to the refinery moon, hoping to collect her remains and find some answers. The questions keep coming though―and they lead her down a path of intrigue, betrayal, and galactic horror. Collects Southern Cross #1-5
- View item
Fatale (2012 to 2014)
Written by Ed Brubaker, Art by Sean Phillips
Fatale follows a Josephine, a true femme fatale who has survived from the 1930s to the modern day, manipulating many men along the way into becoming infatuated with her, by using her hypnotic ability. Across the decades Jo is pursued by a violent cult who worship ancient horrific deities, who seemingly have a connection with Jo. The narrative also explores femme fatales from long before Jo’s time, for example femme fatales from 13th century France and also the wild west, who were also pursued by the same cult.
The Lovecraft comparisons should already be immensely clear, then – there is a mythology of horrific ancient Gods and there are a group of followers who worship these Gods. In some parts of the comic, as can be seen from the image below, these Gods make an appearance in the narrative and in the visuals. The deity shown below is a-typical of Lovecraft’s deities (and very similar to what Monstress went on the depict with Monstrum) in its tentacular design and in how it is described as bringing a ‘cold dread’.
I’ve only read Volume One of Fatale thus far, but it’s already very clearly a refined and classy crime narrative, sprinkled occasionally by the supernatural. Even if this comic had focused on femme fatales alone, without any supernatural content, it still would have been well worth a look, but it is this rather subtle focus on Lovecraftian horror (which is very prevalent in the series’ cover art too, which often features tentacles) that makes it stand apart from the other noir titles around. It’s also the only comic in this list that has already concluded, so you know that you can read this tale from its beginnings to its endgame, without having to wait for further issues.
Read this if you love:
- Crime noir
- Classic and alluring femme fatales
- Tales of men suffering terrible ends, due to falling for a woman
- Secret cults who worship ancient Gods
Fatale Volume One, titled Death Chases Me, is available now, as are all five volumes. Fatale was a limited series that ran from 2012 to 2014, which has fully concluded.
Fatale Volume One: Death Chases Me
Secrets, lies, horror, lust, and monsters from the time before time all collide in Fatale: Death Chases Me. In present day, a man meets a woman who he becomes instantly obsessed with, and in the 1950s, this same woman destroys the lives of all those who cross her path, on a quest for… what? Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ bestselling series will leave you craving more!
The first arc of Image’s surprise hit is collected just in time for new readers to jump on board with issue #6!
- View item
I hope my list inspires you to check at least one of these comics out. Let us know what you thought of these comics in the comments section below.
Image credits: Image Comics