- Posted by Ed Sizemore on March 9, 2009 at 8:10 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: story by Christopher Rowley; art by Jhomar Soriano
- PUBLISHER: Seven Seas; $9.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Kirsti Rivers and her mother, Victoria, have moved to Arkham Woods from Los Angeles. They are living in the home of her great-great-uncle hoping to sell the place. While exploring the house, her boyfriend Tommy discovers keys to the mysterious chests in the attic. The chests are filled with skeletons that aren’t quite human. Tommy calls a couple of friends over, and they discover an occult drawing carved into the floor of the basement. This leads to further and more terrifying revelations until Kirsti and her friends find that they must save the world from a horror beyond our dimension and human imagination.
I’m an H.P. Lovecraft fan and collector of comics based on, or inspired by, his works. So I was excited to see Seven Seas put out a comic in this genre. However, my exhilaration turned to dismay before I even finished the first chapter. The fundamental problem with Arkham Woods is that Rowley doesn’t appear to be a very good student of Lovecraft.
Lovecraft wrote horror in the vein of Hawthorne and Poe. This style of horror is based on being inside the protagonist’s mind and watching as his/her mental world crumbles. Arkham Woods is based on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, a pseudo-pantheon of immensely powerful extraterrestrials worshiped as gods by lesser beings. They reflect the primordial chaos that is the true nature of reality. It’s a cosmic horror based on humans realizing that the universe is a cold, empty place with no regard for mankind.
The interiority of Lovecraft’s stories is difficult to convey in a visual medium, and Rowley doesn’t prove up to the challenge. Initially, he tries using first-person narration to give insight to Kirsti’s thoughts, but mercifully, the narration is all but dropped by the third chapter. There’s no sense of dread and hopelessness in this book. Kristi suffers great tragedy, but she’s able to go on and build a new life for herself. She’s not mentally devastated and permanently disconnected from ordinary human life like a true Lovecraftian hero. Arkham Woods feels like an 80s slasher film, just with a bigger, cosmic, homicidal boogieman.
Let me correct some mistakes Rowley makes about the Old Ones. Cthulhu is a priest of the Old Ones and not “Lord of the Earth” as Rowely maintains. He is asleep deep under the waters of the Pacific, waiting to be awakened by his followers. He is not living in another dimension. Azathoth is a being of chaos who sits at the center of the universe and not the benevolent “Lord of Universe”. Thus, it’s obvious that Cthulhu serves Azathoth and is not at war with him.
There also some inaccuracies with Rowley’s portrayal of fundamental Christianity through the character Kevin. First, fundamentalists hold the King James and the New King James versions of the Bible to be the only acceptable English translations. They would never commission their own translation of the Bible; that would be heresy. They might use other translations in their personal study; however, they regard these more as paraphrases than true translations. More accurate would be a King James Bible with study notes by a respected fundamentalist pastor or a fundamentalist seminary. Second, most fundamentalists don’t call themselves fundamentalist. The adjectives they use are conservative, born-again, and Bible-believing.
Soriano’s artwork here is solid. I don’t find anything particularly mangaesque about his art. This could just as easily be a book published by Dark Horse or Boom! Studios. Soriano does an excellent job at creating a gloomy atmosphere for the book. The character, creature, and set designs are well done. The page layouts have a good flow to them also.
Just a couple notes to the publisher. First, I don’t understand why the book was printed in the Japanese format. It’s written by an American author, based on the works of another American author, with art by an artist in the Philippines. So the reading right-to-left seems a silly affectation. Second, perhaps the cover wasn’t the wisest choice. A naked teenage girl surrounded by tentacles just invites hentai jokes. For readers not familiar with Lovecraft’s work, this cover is going to send the wrong message about the contents of the book, and the design will cause a few people to avoid it.
In the end, this book really needed another round of editing. The narration in the first two chapters is very heavy-handed and repetitious. Although the art has the right look for horror, Rowley never develops the atmosphere in the writing. Rowley gives the book the feel and pacing more of an adventure story than a horror story. This is understandable, given Rowley is a noted sci-fi author.
As a Lovecraft fan, for me, this book was nothing but frustration from about the fifth page until the end. Readers of any genre of fiction should avoid this book. Instead, you can read comics by Boom! Studios if you want good Lovecraft-inspired fiction.