Alan Moore (w), Jacen Burrows (a) Juan Rodriguez (c)
Providence moves slowly. Halfway through the twelve-issue run, this issue may not promise that the pacing will pick up, but certainly goes a long way towards enticing you to stay with it. As Robert Black explores early twentieth century New England researching for a book of American occult, his mind begins to unravel. Or reality does. He’s not very sure which. The book started with veiled darkness and secrecy, as Black flees his job following the death of his secret, homosexual lover. Since it has been periodically peppered with demonic-sightings and otherworldly occurrences which accumulated as little more than another awkward situation for him.
If you read the story that preceded this, Neonomicon, or are a fan of Alan Moore, you’ve been patient. Now your patience is paying off. (Please be aware, there are spoilers and disturbing content ahead.)
It may seem crass to say anyone reading this book is looking to be disturbed. Neonomicon was bleak, viciously depicting sexual assault as perpetrated by an aquatic creature typical of the Lovecraftian world that inspires these stories. Sexual deviance and violent depravity are always lingering there, as well in most of the books published by Avatar. So, that this issue climaxes as Black’s consciousness is being transferred into the body of a young girl. Meanwhile his own body is possessed by what had inhabited the girl moments before and has sex with her while Black is inside her. It’s hard to explain though not out of context considering the larger work. Repressed and secretive sexuality has surrounded Black throughout this story. He himself leads a life of great discretion. That he, a gay man, is raped while inhabiting a woman’s body, leaves the mind spinning.
Perhaps six issues into the story, it should be more apparent whether the scene is a commentary on the perception that men themselves cannot be raped, or that gay men specifically are not protected because of expectations of traditional masculinity. Maybe the message is that the sexuality of young women can be dangerous to older men or that sex itself may victimize anyone when practiced irresponsibly. Perhaps, it’s violent sexual depravity without any commentary appealing to the most base-form of entertainment or something to cause each person to determine individually how what they have witnessed makes them feel.
For anyone offended by the material, it’s important to keep in mind the book deals with real world perversions such as rape and incest in a way that portrays the dark culture that keeps these things alive. Pairing them with fiction and myth may seem to trivialize the subject. In fact, it’s really only intended for those who seek to view the events through a lens that portrays the feelings of isolation, abomination and helplessness it brings about.
As Robert Black escapes into a lightning storm, seeing further signs that his world is unraveling, his own reactions have yet to set in. For him, it’s not yet over. For the reader, the event still spins in their head, causing an urge to go back and revisit the story to further understand what led to what they have just witnessed, seeking context or understanding. None of which is immediately apparent. While that’s a fitting place to leave off, there’s no guarantee the story will ever pick up. Moore is known for gradual build-ups. It is imperative at this point the story begins to change directions and abandon the meek author researching a story in favor of something that advances our own story, whether it’s by fleshing out Black’s response to what’s happened or learning in a more direct way about the secret society that seems to exist just outside the panels. Otherwise, this truly is horror for the sake of horror.