CCCBC: Neonomicon #3


by

Friday, January 28, 2011


Did you find this spider anywhere inside Neonomicon 3? I didn't.

Let’s start this meeting of the CCCBC by pointing newcomers to previous entries so as to get up to speed, and then leap right in to a SPOILER-filled synopsis: We begin with a rather jokey FBI interrogation of Mary Ann Stubbs, the woman who attacked Agents Brears way back in issue one. She delivers her statement in writing, and in the gibberish-like “aklo” language, natch, which leads to the aforementioned fourth-wall-busting grin. Then, and for the rest of the comic, we’re back to Brears, still trapped in the basement orgone-chamber/rape-and-orgy room with a gigantic fish-like sex-crazed monster. Apparently, Brears has been enduring days of near-constant sexual assault from the creature, to the point where she’s begun to hallucinate. In the vision or dream we can observe, Brears finds herself, naked and alone, in the sunken city of R’lyeh, the infamous resting place of great Cthulhu itself. Johnny Carcosa appears, and lisps a series of clues. (The online consensus seems to agree that the magic word Brears can’t quite understand is “annunciation.” What this is, is your annunciation, Mary.) She awakens, and the monster (apparently a “Deep One“) rapes her. Later, at lunch, she somewhat inexplicably offers him some bread. Instead of accepting the food, he attempts to rape her again, before she distracts him with a handie. Afterward, she urinates by the pool. Brears muses out loud that entering the water might be considered an invitation, but this narrative contrivance also allows the Deep One to taste her piss. (Readers so far speculate he does this to see if she’s pregnant.) A now excited Deep One starts babbling in Aklo about R’lyeh, Cthulhu, and maybe “Dho-hna” (“the force which defines, that lends significance to its receptacle as with the hand in the glove, the wind in mill-vanes, or the guest or trespasser crossing a threshold and giving it meaning”). As the issue ends, he takes her hand, leads her underwater, and breaks the gate that confined them.

So here’s some brief thoughts, as we wait for the final issue. Please add or argue with them in the comments, if you like.

1. The events and setting are just as horrific here as last issue, but the tone could not be much more different. To steal a phrase or two from every comics blogger’s best buddy, Joe McC: “It’s as if [Alan] Moore sat back and thought ‘now what’s the most horrible thing I can possibly do at this juncture in the story?’ The answer, of course, was ‘big dollops of broad, deliberate comedy,’ moreso than anything in the prior issue, so loud that at one point an entire splash page is reserved primarily for a character mugging toward the ‘camera’ after a particularly rank Lovecraft-themed verbal gag. This series is the damndest thing.” Even in the comparatively harrowing issue two, rape and murder seemed to be treated somewhat lightly; this time, Moore and Burrows dwell over the crime at length. Even readers not offended last time around might find this too cavalier.

2. The previous Moore story this most reminds me of so far is his The Killing Joke, another story that involved clever juxtapositions, abrupt shifts in tone, arguably exploitative violence, and an originating impulse grounded in one of Moore’s “bad moods.”

3. A common theory online suggests that Brear may be pregnant with Cthulhu himself. This has been supported by a quote from a pre-publication interview with Moore:

By the end of the series it actually answers the question that always bugged me about the Cthulhu mythos. I mean, I know that the first God Lovecraft created in the mythos was Cthulhu itself, in 1926, in “The Call of Cthulhu.” Then Cthulhu became such a popular figure that he then came up with all the other Gods: Yog-Sottoth and all the rest of them, who are supposed to be inferior to Cthulhu. I mean, it’s the Cthulhu Mythos. His name is on the mythos! He’s pretty much the boss monster. And yet, he’s humanoid. He’s got tentacles for a face, admittedly – but he has got arms and legs. A head, a torso. Whereas Azathoth is a kind of eternal nuclear explosion or something, just a seething nuclear chaos. Yog-Sottoth is the cooling chaos. The thing that you glimpse at the centre of the dark. These are not human figures at all. So why is Cthulhu – if he is the boss monster – why is he humanoid? This is one of the questions we answer in the course of Neonomicon.

That Brears is pregnant with something seems very plausible, and I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t pick up on the idea until I came across it online. But I’m not sure this mother-of-Cthulhu idea makes sense, at least if we take this quote at face value. Mostly because the Deep One here is pretty humanoid already…

4. Johnny Carcosa is more interesting and less predictable in Neonomicon than he seemed in The Courtyard.

5. Allegorical readings are always dangerous, usually superfluous, and wrong to boot, but if we extend the one I bruited as a possibility last meeting, then Brears/Alan Moore has been locked in a room with the Deep One/Watchmen, and been forced to have sex with it repeatedly. At the same time, DO/W seems to have more sympathy for B/AM than for the murderous cultists/DC, and their potential offspring seems to offer hope of freedom or other rewards for all but DC.

6. Despite somewhat mixed feelings for this series, I can’t wait for issue four. It is hard to believe that there is only one issue left in this series; I expect a lot to happen in it.

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19 Responses to “CCCBC: Neonomicon #3”
  1. Shortly after the issue came out, someone mentioned to me that the sewer creature reminded them of Swamp Thing; of course, hallucinatory sex was the focus of one of Moore’s most famous issues on that series, which proved to be arguably his major inspirational contribution to the DC shared universe. Although the same motif showed up in PROMETHEA too, in keeping with the ‘bad mood’ theme of NEONOMICON, parts of this issue can be read as kind of a dark version of that ecstatic early work, with the vision kept stolidly literal instead of smearing all over the page. Obviously, part of this is attributable to Jacen Burrows & Juanmar being different artists than Bissette/Totleben/Wood, but it’s funny that even blinking over to another place only grants Brears a temporary splash-page freedom from the crushing panelization of the world… then again, as has been mentioned before, Johnny Carcosa simply entered a sub-frame at the end of issue #1…

    (Of course, SWAMP THING also featured a sexual violation prior to that particular issue, through Abby’s sex with her lover as covertly inhabited by her uncle, but Moore places this in the context of reality breaking down in the organic world — cats sitting on babies in the cradle! — while sexuality in that series is typically presented as a mystic-organic function, i.e. a process of the world itself. The ‘bad mood’ reading of this is that Brears is accomplishing the evil world’s natural function, which ironically places her in a greater place of understanding than even the cultists, when at the top of issue #2 it was Brears’ inability to grasp the Lovecraftian makeup of the world’s architecture that led her into trouble… it’s also perhaps Moore’s narrative ‘out’ to wreak some cathartic havoc on the cultists in issue #4…)

    I don’t mind the wraparound covers not having anything to do with the plot on its face… I presume they’re depicting godly activities spreading freely outside the panels of the book proper, which is appropriate enough given the confinement of the book’s world. I don’t know who selects what the alternate covers depict in Avatar series, but Burrows’ wraparound covers for Garth Ennis’ CROSSED performed a similar function, depicting scenes of chaos from outside the narrative, until the final issue, which presents the human characters of the series just standing around and kind of staring at the reader, which neatly fit the theme of the series, I thought.

    Also, I was reminded of one of the Mindless Ones describing the conclusion of issue #2 as a bit camp, comparing its tone (“actually quite a relief”) with the “painful and disturbing” lurch of PRISON PIT from comedy to horror-comedy… issue #3 had me thinking of Johnny Ryan a bit too, particularly in the odd, almost shy way Brears and creature sit apart from another at the pool, followed by some explicit bodily function antics…

    http://mindlessones.com/2010/10/15/the-mashless-ones-on-neonomicon-2/

    • T. Hodler says:

      Good call on the Swamp Thing and Promethea callbacks, especially the latter, which I’d forgotten … Kind of a funny thing for an artist to have as a running theme (hallucinatory sex between attractive women and physically hideous male creatures, I mean), though I suppose it’s a natural outcome if you take classic monster movie material to its logical (if previously subtextual) conclusion.

      I don’t mind the wraparound covers depicting events and characters not found within the comic, either—just thought it was worth noting. It’s actually a very effective and efficient way to extend the story’s world beyond what is found within the stated plot.

      The Johnny Ryan comparison is interesting too. I hadn’t really bought that argument so much when I read issue 2, but it seems much more natural here.

      • Is there speculation about what the wrap-around covers could signify? I’m wondering about what the covers could be providing the story, what information could be hidden in them (though they do seem to be straight-forward depictions of Lovecraftian creatures and scenes). Moore, often times it seems, doesn’t let any sort of opportunity to provide information, subliminally or explicitly, escape his stories. I’m thinking of the extensive level of detail he used in the issues of League of Extraordinary Gentleman, which were heavily annotated. Also, his famously lengthy and highly descriptive scripts lead me to guess he would weigh in on the content of the covers. I also wonder about the Neonomicon logo, if there is an encrypted message within it’s strange design. Of course this could just be over-doing it. It could be that Moore didn’t give this script the kind of attention he gives to other works and Burrows is simply coming up with what would make an exciting cover with Christiansen.

        • Also, the contribution of the Watchmen covers come to mind, thinking of Moore’s other works. But that could have been Gibbons call.

        • T. Hodler says:

          There are so many variants, too. From what I can tell, some of the cover images depict creatures and situations that appear in the main comic, but in different contexts; some of the covers depict creatures and situations that appear nowhere in the main comic; and some of the covers depict characters and situations that are hinted at in the main comic, but don’t appear there directly (i.e., the cover that shows Aldo Sax attacking Perlman). It would be interesting to look at them all again once the story is finished, and try to figure out what, if any, overarching strategy was being applied by Moore and/or Burrows.

  2. Evan Dorkin says:

    Lovecraft believed in not explaining anything, and on the one hand, that’s a bit of a cop-out, but on the other hand, it avoids the dullsville origin blather no one in genre comics seems to be able to avoid. It never feels organic, at least when an author delves into the “origin” of another author’s character. I mean, do what you will, and by all means if you need to explain your big tentacle monster, but origins generally bog shit down.

    And the Killing Joke was, imho, one big bog. Beautifully drawn, smart in places, but a potboiler with pointless excess. Never liked that wayward, bloated annual, never understood the big deal other than the creators and Bolland’s wonderful work on a bit of creepy fluff that helped usher in the age of creepy fluff, more so than the always dragged-out Watchmen. Killing Joke was, iirc, the first comic we dealt with at the shop I worked at where we couldn’t easily sell an in-continuity story about a beloved superhero to kids. I don’t blame Moore, I blame DC, the house of cards got the biggest push here when gruesome shit took place and we had kids reading the books back then and they wanted/needed/had to know what happened. And DC was way cool with it all. ‘Cuz it was ALAN MOORE. So we got, ahem:

    “Batman and Joker, acting very twee,
    L-A-U-G-H-I-N-G,
    first came rape,
    then came damage,
    then came fanboys with vows of marriage.”

    Please don’t jump to the conclusion that I’m mad at DC for harming Batgirl. SHE’S NOT REAL. And the events protrayed in KJ are fair game to delve into, although I have my issues with using decades-old, iconic children’s comic book characters. But that Moore, he loves to explore, even if Dorothy of Oz becomes a whore (What is this shit with all the rhyming (and maybe stealing) today). But this was pre-Vertigo where even then bluenose Paul Levitz got his panties in a mylar wad if Superman held a frigging beer and there could be no seperation of “church and state”, “old guard superhero action the way Levitz likes it” and “This is me fucking your childhood in the ass”. But Commissioner Gordon could be hogtied nekkid on a pile of whatever that was and Babs Gordon could be used for spinal target practice/rape fantasy figure gal and it all ends with two fucking idiots sharing a larf. “My best friend’s daughter’s paralyzed, he’s traumatized, people are dead, let’s have a metaphorical crazy moment of levity, shall we?”. TOO. AWESOME. DUDE,too awesome to to be called for bullshit, even if nobody I know really liked or understood that horsecrap ending.

    Jeez. Off topic. Sorry. Woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Which is any side, of course.
    I think I was saying something about it being unnecessary to explain Cthulhu? Or Alan Moore comics?

    Final two cents — I haven’t read this, so yeah and all that, but does anyone else out there find Moore’s weakest writing to be his stabs at intentional comedy? I think he has a tin ear for funny dialogue, a leaden foot pushed firmly down on comedic business, and a dead approach to the whole shebang that doesn’t give P.G. Wodehouse or that Three Men in a Boat guy or anyone else all British and clever a leisurely stroll for his money. The drollery is too damned droll, the whimsy forced (“Holy socks!”), the irony ironed flat, the EC influence rears an unfunny head all-too often because he cannot capture Kurtzman’s manic qualities, or even Feldstein’s goofy qualities, and, well, I don’t laugh. Ever. Trying to re-read OC and Stiggs or whatever that space goof duo book was led me to give it away a few years ago. All IMHO.

    Gosh that’s a lot to say about something I’m not reading. Proceed without me.

    • T. Hodler says:

      Lovecraft believed in not explaining anything [...] I mean, do what you will, and by all means if you need to explain your big tentacle monster, but origins generally bog shit down.

      This is an excellent point, and I hope the comic doesn’t actually deliver on Moore’s promise and explicitly explain too much. Lovecraft didn’t systematize hardly any of his supposed “mythos,” which was basically cobbled together and overexplained by later authors after his death. Then again, Moore has shown a knack for getting good stories out of breaking that particular rule (see Swamp Thing again).

      And I agree with you on The Killing Joke. It’s one of my least favorite Moore comics. According to interviews he’s given, it’s one of Moore’s least favorite, too, so I think Neonomicon‘s similarities to it may be noteworthy.

      I also agree on a lot of Moore’s humor writing—it often seems to be trying too hard. I did love big chunks of 1963, though, if that counts as comedy.

    • For the record, Moore pretty much agrees with some of your criticisms of THE KILLING JOKE:

      “…I felt that it was too nasty. I thought I’d made a cardinal error by making it so grim and nasty, because it’s okay to be nasty or grim or terrifying if that is in service of making some important point…. And I think that that’s probably, at the end of the day, what happened with THE KILLING JOKE because there’s some very nasty things in THE KILLING JOKE and ultimately at the end of the day THE KILLING JOKE is a story about Batman and the Joker; it isn’t about anything that you’re ever going to encounter in real life, because Batman and the Joker are not like any human beings that have ever lived. So there’s no important human information being imparted… in terms of what I want from a book from my writing, yeah, it was something that I thought was clumsy, misjudged and had no real human importance. It was just about a couple of licensed DC characters that didn’t relate to the real world in any way.”

      (That’s from George Khoury’s THE EXTRAORDINARY WORKS OF ALAN MOORE)

      The little porn comic included in BLACK DOSSIER was the funniest thing he’s done in a long time… on the other hand, the little porn comic in DODGEM LOGIC #2 had exactly the problems you’re alluding to, in that it seems like a schematic read of Kurtzman-informed comic book satire… some of the ABC stuff was funny too, yeah; Jack B. Quick was alright, but some of the later Cobweb stories (especially the ones he did with Dame Darcy) were pretty great.

      I’d say comedy is the area where Moore dips the lowest when he’s not ‘on’… like, when he’s unfunny, he’s REALLY unfunny. D.R. & QUINCH was generally awful — not quite as bad as the dregs of his Image period in the ’90s, SPAWN/WILDC.A.T.S and FIRE FROM HEAVEN, but down there — although I know some folks’ll disagree. I never really laughed so much at BOJEFFERIES as appreciated the detailed setting, the verisimilitude, I guess…

      • Oh god, and the text bits of 1963! Those were really fucking funny, I thought, the long, detailed Stan Lee parody persona he adopted…

      • T. Hodler says:

        “At the end of the day THE KILLING JOKE is a story about Batman and the Joker; it isn’t about anything that you’re ever going to encounter in real life, because Batman and the Joker are not like any human beings that have ever lived. So there’s no important human information being imparted… It was just about a couple of licensed DC characters that didn’t relate to the real world in any way.”

        I forgot that was one of the main faults Moore had with the book… Kind of fascinating considering what he’s doing here with Neonomicon, all about lots of characters and monsters out of Lovecraft who aren’t much like anything you’re ever going to encounter in real life either. The difference here, of course, is that he seems to be taking that as one of his main topics in Neonomicon, what with the cultish devotion to Lovecraft and the mystery regarding what is real what is just literary reference. (That’s on top of the fact that of course the horrors of Lovecraftian fiction have a metaphorical relevance that the Joker probably doesn’t.)

        From another angle, I’m not sure how Moore’s criticism jibes with his other ideas about fictional characters and their “reality” — I’m talking about the themes he’s explored in Promethea, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, etc. I’ve never been totally sure I understand what he means by “ideaspace” and the like (or even if that’s relevant here), but I wonder why Batman and the Joker don’t work as larger metaphors in it the way Promethea is apparently supposed to… Of course, he may also just have been speaking extemporaneously and contradicted himself accidentally, which is no crime outside of Nerd Court.

        Finally, and Grant Morrison partisans should feel free to weigh in and speak up for the man, but that criticism of The Killing Joke is a pretty apt way to finger the tragic flaw at the center of much of Morrison’s writing over the last five or so years, too, no?

  3. Jeremy says:

    @Evan – I don’t know, some of Moore’s Bojefferies Saga stuff was pretty funny. I also dug his stuff with Kevin Nowlan, the Jack B. Quick stories. Maybe it’s all about who his collaborator is?

  4. mr. pants says:

    All of Moore’s ABC line was very fun, and funny. Tom Strong was wonderful.

  5. Some comments about the series to date:

    “The Courtyard” (published in 1997, set in 2004) took place in some kind of alternate future, where “Farrakhan Day” was celebrated, where you could find a “public Faxbooth” in the street. “Neonomicon” is a sequel, but doesn’t include any of these details, there’s no evidence this world’s history is significantly different from our own. Well, other than the existence of Lovecraftian monsters, I guess.

    Agent Brears’s sex-addiction made her seem at first like a female version of “The Wire”‘s McNulty. But as the series progresses, her constant preoccupation with this makes her look like a stand-in for sexually-repressed Lovecraft himself. She’s afraid of losing control again, which could explain why she was so freaked out in the last pages of issue #2 (before “seeing” the creature at the end), being in the middle of a full-scale orgy is what she most fears.

    The setting in issue #3′s scene with the FBI agents talking about Lovecraft is straight out of “The Wire” (a windowless room, the blackboard with mugshots of the people under investigation).

    All in all (and I may be in the minority here), I think I prefer “The Courtyard”. It’s short, clever, and to the point; it gives a brief glimpse into this world of Lovecraftian references, tells its story, and ends. I’m not that enamored of the way the characters in “Neonomicon” explain all the meta-textual references to the reader.

    • Oh, I just read the script excerpt that appeared in the “Neonomicon Hornbook” (a preview published before the first issue). Moore briefly mentions some characteristics of the world the story takes place in:

      “We open on a dark night during the late summer of 2006, in the America that ‘The Courtyard’ took place in. This is pretty much as run down and gritty and textured and seamy as our own world, but with little differences like fax booths, pachinko arcades and anti-pollution domes covering the major urban areas.”

      Burrows draws the domes later in the story, but I have to admit I had no idea what they were supposed to be.

      • T. Hodler says:

        Yes, the domes are easy to miss. It’s unclear to me whether they’re thematically important to the story, or simply a carryover from the original prose story’s need to depict a dystopian future. In his analysis, the YouTube critic linked to in the post for issues 2 & 3 gave them a metafictional gloss that you might find interesting.

  6. I made my girlfriend read all three issues and they scared the shit out of her, haha! I got lots to say on this one. Just gimme a second. There’s a blizzard outside. I gotta shovel the walk.

  7. I was thinking “how successful is this comic is to readers who don’t get or care about all the references?” – like just visually and in the bluntest terms this is a scary comic. Successful on those terms. And the references and all the stuff that we the uber-nerds pick up on is not necessarily a must for the casual reader.

    • I’m a pretty casual Lovecraft fan. I’ve read several stories but a lot of the details have slipped from my memory. I think Neonomicon is successful as a horror comic without getting the references. I get some of them but not all. I’m also a fan of Burrows’ artwork. So for me, not to get each reference doesn’t diminish the entertainment value. I should say I would never have picked up this series if I hadn’t read Jog’s essay on issue #2. I do get tripped up with some of Moore’s clumsy plotting. Like the reasons for Brears removing her contacts and for urinating on the side of the pool and not in the water are very awkward. There were better choices to set up those actions. I’m very curious for issue #4 though. I wonder what is under Johnny Carcosa’s veil. A mouth full of tentacles?

  8. AM2011 says:

    Tholder,

    I noticed the same thing you mentioned in regards to the alternate covers (certain situations being hinted at as you mention).

    I saved a picture of each of the covers on my computer. There are a lot:
    -5 Covers for the Hornbook (Preview)
    -11 Covers for Issue 1
    -5 Covers for Issue 2
    -4 Covers for Issue 3
    -4 Covers for Issue 4

    I posted some of my insights (under the username “RobinsonCrusoe”) that I’ve seen in the story so far here:
    http://forums.comicbookresources.com/showthread.php?t=321107&page=7

    There are a lot of interesting layers discussed in this thread as well. I’d recommend checking it out.