Plot: Mundane horror has tentacles too.
Commentary: The horror of the times reflects the anxiety of the times. Dracula tapped into the sexual repression of the Victorian era, Godzilla reflected our fears of atomic annihilation, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original movie) saw terror hiding in the weird neighbors down the street. Each reflected the anxiety of their times, each says something about what’s bothering us whether we know it or not.
A few years ago the return of the zombie to mainstream horror (especially comics) could be reflective of nature getting out of control and how we’re powerless in the face of catastrophe. It could also be a commentary on people mindlessly following the government in the wake of 9/11, or rampant consumerism destroying the world. Take your pick. The one big change in horror is that our ghouls can mean many different things instead of just one. Where does Cthulhu fit in? How has Cthulhu maintained the same sense of terror and dread while his peers have slipped into parody and irrelevance?
The Cthulhu Mythos has always been appealing to those with a heightened sense of paranoia, and paranoia never goes out of style. Think about it; an ancient evil waits silently for the right time to emerge and consume the world in darkness. We small fragile puny individual people are powerless to oppose it. If we even catch a sidelong glance of its immense evil we are driven to madness. Sounds like someone meeting Dick Cheney to me, or at the very least having to deal with the automated telephone system of the unemployment office. The paranoids have it right and the rest of us are just grokking to the fact. Cthulhu hasn’t caught up to us and our anxieties -- he’s been waiting in the darkness for us to find him! The time is now! Cthulhu R’lyeh Wgah’nagl!
Paranoia is the overarching theme of BOOM!’s Cthulhu Tales and fear in the mundane is the recurring theme of this issue. The first story, “Alimentary, My Dear Cthulhu” makes the supernatural mundane. Two detectives investigate the murder of a great old one, its body half hanging out of a dimensional gateway. Everyone is entangled with the supernatural from Angelica Outré getting it on with a fish-bug thing to the main detective having a third eye. No one seems to care. When the murder is solved (Mr. Horne with the candlestick in the library) it seems as arbitrary as the rest of the weird goings-on. The story bears no similarity to any Sherlock Holmes story. In fact, the little structure it has bears a closer resemblance to Agatha Christie’s drawing room mysteries. The story misses the mark in too many ways to care about what happens. Even the art by Andrew Ritchie, which is good, can’t save it. The only effective moment is the meta-joke at the very end and even that is undercut by its winking-at-the-audience nature.
The second story, “On the Wagon” fares a lot better. Paranoia takes the form of an intervention. Ken needs to drink and his friends and family have had enough. They stage an intervention to put an end to his destructive behavior. As the intervention unfolds the reader quickly understands that the reason Ken is drinking is not to hide pain but to keep something at bay. He finally confesses that drinking is the only way to keep the demon from coming out. His family takes him to get help where the paranoia only doubles with a nice twist at the end. The misdirection is handled well and, though, not a real shock the ending does pay off. Eduardo Ferigato’s art is the smoothest of the collection. His rendering of Ken’s DTs keeps your focus off the real threat till its way too late to escape.
The third story, “The Cruise of Cthulhu”, isn’t really a story but more like a collection of ideas strung around the narrative of a travel brochure. “Alhazred” Cruises offers the best in luxury vacationing. You can watch cabaret in the Lovecraft Lounge or drink “Tentacle Twists” at the Old Ones Inn. You can grab the paranoia in the mundane because the images twist what the brochure is narrating. The art by Chee is fun to look at; he does a great eldritch monster of the depths. But the idea is thin, a slight chuckle at best.
Final Word: Anthologies are hit and miss by nature. While the ratio is skewed toward the “miss” in this issue I still think Cthulhu Tales demonstrates potential. The time for Cthulhu to rise in the mainstream world is now! The world teeters on the brink of destruction and paranoia is more marketable now than ever. Once Cthulhu Tales refines the stories, figures out its voice, BOOM! will have unleashed a monster.
Discover my own brand of paranoia here:
"Who is Crazy Mary?"
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