Friday, 1 July 2016

Alan Moore Obscurities: Neonomicon (#1-4, The Courtyard #1-2) VERY NSFW

NSFW and Trigger Warning:  There is a lot of rape and nudity in this book.  I've had to include some images depicting these things because otherwise I wouldn't be doing the book "justice".  If you are in anyway the slightest bit upset by that sort of thing, do NOT read on.

"Thith fuck you're having.  It'ths a deep one" - Johnny Carcosa


I've always been a huge fan of H.P Lovecraft, I started reading my dad's (now mine) original paperback editions of the collected stories when I was about eleven or twelve and have revisited them roughly once a year ever since.  Yes, I realise there is a lot of racism in the stories, but despite that the sheer imagination they contain, the superb use of language and fantastic atmospheres they create mean I will always rate Lovecraft as one of my favourite writers.  And he's been one of the most influential as well in geek circles with his "Cthulu Mythos" contributing much to various nerd hobbies like Dungeons and Dragons and horror videogames and such like.  And perhaps one of the reasons his stories were so popular in the geek demographic was the total lack of interest in sex and sexuality and the horror existing on a more "intellectual" level as it were (this is of course before being a geek became sexy, as I think back to my own uninterested-in-sex teen years I still find modern Sexy Geekdom to be a bit disconcerting. Which is purely my own resentful biases showing I freely admit).  Which made Alan Moore's taking on Lovecraft cause alarm bells to start ringing for me before I even read the book. A man whose big works mainly revolves around sex taking on a famously asexual universe and author?  Was always going to end badly in my opinion. However, the main Neonomicon story is not really a Lovecraftian influenced story at all, it's more a chance for Moore to sneer at Lovecraft's sexuality by having characters discuss it in-story and then "improve" stories like "The Shadows Over Innsmouth" by adding gang and monster rape to it.  It's not like Moore couldn't write a Lovecraftian story, the adapted text story "The Courtyard" included in the Neonomicon collected edition is a great little creepy tale.  But the main Neonomicon four part comic is revolting and insulting and again, if you find rape and sexual assault at all triggering, stop reading after "The Courtyard".  You have been warned.

Really I mean it, progress at your own risk.

No under 18's allowed.
Aldo Sax
THE COURTYARD:  This was originally a text story published in 1995 in an anthology called "Starry Wisdom: A Tribute To H.P. Lovecraft".  It has been adapted by Anthony Johnston who also did the Fashion Beast adaptation and beautifully drawn by Jacen Burrows.  I'll skim over it because it's mostly told in big blocks of text with only two panels per page so reads more like an illustrated text story than a comic.  An virulently racist FBI agent goes in search of a new drug called "Aklo" (from the "Dunwich Horror") which might help him explain some mysterious cult related murders he is investigating. 
Johnny Carcosa gives hi his Aklo "hit".
At a concert by the "Ulthar Cats" (lead singer a lesbian called "Randolph Carter") he is told who can hook him up with the stuff.  A mysterious man in a veil called "Johnny Carcosa" invites him back to his home for it.  There the FBI Agent is told he'll have to snort some white powder before he can get his three hits of the stuff.  He does so and the Carcosa whispers in his ear, each word is a "hit", Aklo is a langauge and triggers hallucinations of Lovecraftian entities.  The story finishes with the FBI agent staring out of the window his arms covered in blood up to his elbows, his thoughts gradually turning into Aklo speak. 
Jacen Burrow's art really is good.
I really liked this short story.  It was full of nice little nods to various Lovecraft works and the concept behind Aklo is very clever.  The idea that words can be as powerful as any drug given the right circumstances is of course something Moore would revist in works like Promethea. It forms background to the main course that is Neonomicon, but is I feel a better Lovecraftian tribute than Neonomicon because it lacks the worst excesses of Alan Moore's rape obsession and actually deals properly with the themes Lovecraft is famous for.

NEONOMICON:  The story begins with FBI agents Merril Brear and Gordon Lamper driving to the secure jail where Aldo Sax, the unamed FBI agent from The Courtyard story is imprisoned after he killed and mutilated in a specific way two women in his building.  As they are investigating murders with similar mutilations he seems like someone they need to talk to.  Merril is back at work after going away for being treated for sex addiction which given the events to come take on skeevy implications in retrospect.
Merril and Gordon.
When they get there they are informed that Aldo Sax was responsible for a third ritual murder of another inmate.  When they try and talk to him he will only speak Aklo, the pseudo-language the FBI have named it.  They try him with various questions, but when they mention the nightclub "Zothique" he visited where he met Johnny Carcosa he clams up and refuses to speak further and they have no choice but to leave.

The two agents make their way to Brooklyn where the murder squad are holed up in a tenement flat.  It's the same building Sax killed the two women in.  There are "six other psychos with the same M.O. as Sax..." now.  There were similar murders in the 1920's, Sax had the information and was putting a case together when he "flipped".
The dodgy nightclub.
They decide they are going to arrest Johnny Carcosa at the club Zothique tonight.  Merril and Gordon go in disguised as club goers, performing on stage are a band called "The Rats In The Malls".  They spot Carcosa and call for back-up.  The FBI heavies arrive on the scene and arrest Randolph carter the singer with the Ulthar Cats but Carcosa manages to escape.

Their snitch tells them that Carcosa lives in a flat nearby with his mother, and so the agents make their way there.  On the way Gordon apologises to Merril for making light of her problems.

Merril: "Look, it's just sex addiction.  It's just a joke complaint right?  Unless it's fucking up your life."

They and the rest of the FBI team arrive at Carcosa's place.  Inside his flat is a lot of creepy stuff including the naked dead body of his mother who has slashed her own throat.  Downstairs Merril spots Carcosa standing in front of a mural on the yard wall.  She tells him to put his hands up he replies, "hah, thee I gotta go.  I can't hang around here no more".
Johnny Carcosa disappears on them.
Merril approaches him and when she gets up close he turns out to be a drawing on the wall.  Carcosa is gone.  Merril begins to freak out and Gordon calms her down saying "fuck Merril. Don't do this.  Come on, man.  Nobody's hurt. Everything's good."

As the FBI poke around, Merril points out all the references to H.P Lovecraft stories, as well as Arthur Machen and Clark Ashton Smith. Clang!  I have no idea why Moore chose to have the in story character's explain the Lovecraft references for the reader, who surely is someone like me, well versed in the man's work and someone who would enjoy spotting and placing the references themself.  It's just more fuel to the fire that this isn't a story using Lovecraftian themes, it's an Alan Moore story about sex which would barely be any different if all the Lovecraft references were removed from the plot. 

Later investigators speculate that Lovecraft is the link between all the murders they are investigating, but that part of the story - the police investigation - is so undercooked and left unresolved it comes across as merely a vehicle for getting Merrill into the demon rape situation.  And in the end Merrill decides actually Lovecraft based his writings on things he uncovered himself in his research rather than drawing on his own imagination, so there's that.
Police work!
Anyway, they decide to follow up on the pornography and sex toys found in Carcosa's place which come from a shop in Salem, Massachussetts where Lovecraft based the fictional Innsmouth.  The shop is a boutique called "The Whispers In The Darkness".

Gordon and Merril travel there and start to get dressed for the part in their hotel room.  As they change they discuss Lovecraft's work.  Gordon says he skimmed the books and thinks "the guy can't write".  Merril sort of agrees but whoever is doing the murders "they like his writing just fine".

Merril: "It's like, see, Lovecraft himself.  He liked blurring the line between what was real and his invented stuff.  So do his followers, and so does whoevers behind all this."

After more chat about his work, Merril and Gordon brings up the fact the books had "plenty of racism. No fucking".  Because fucking is important yeah?
Look nerds, titties!
Then she and Gordon go to the boutique which sells various occult and Lovecraft linked items.  Their loud appreciation brings them to the attention of the owner and when they say Johnny Carcosa recommended the place to them, the owner invites them into the back for the more specialised and rare stuff.  He says that he and other "genuine devotees" have regular get togethers and are having one tonight which they'd be welcome to join.

They agree and with a few hours to kill before it takes place, Merril says she is going to read the occult literature she bought so she can "get inside the heads of these people."  Later that night they return to the shop and are lead down a secret passageway to a pool full of cold sea water.
My eyes!
There are seven others there, they all start to strip and Merril and Gordon join in.  Merril is told to take her contacts out in case she gets an eye infection so her coming ordeal she only sees through a blur.  She gets in the pool as the others start having sex.  Then one of the cultists finds her gun and shoots Gordon through the head with it, killing him.

Her cover blown, Merril says she is with the FBI and they know where she is.  The cultists just laugh and say even she doesn't know where she is.  Then they put the gun to her head and start to rape her, vaginally and orally, taking it in turns while she cries and screams for mercy.
I have no words.
Then a huge scaly cock appears from off panel and the cultists argue over who gets to drink it's cum, which we see. I can't believe I had to type that sentence, fuck you Alan.  Then Merril is pushed towards the owner of said cock, her blurred vision only able to make out a green scaled face and blank eyes as one of the cultists says "look how much he wants her".

Back with the FBI, Randolph Carter is being asked about the missing agents Merril and Gordon.  They note that they are getting "The Statement of Randolph Carter" in case we were too dense to see that.  It's in Aklo anyway and useless to them.
Sigh.
Down in the secret pool room Merril is lying face down on the floor being raped by something we can only see the green scaly arms of.  She passes out and wakes up naked in a landscape of twisted stone.  Johnny Carcosa is there.  They converse:

Merril: "I really am a dirty fucking whore.  My pussy is wet right now."

Johnny: "That'th becauthe thomething'th thcrewing you."

Moore better not be implying that with her sex addiction problem Merril is secretly enjoying it.  He REALLY better not.  Merril asks where this place is, Carcosa says "Thith ith R'lyeh. R'lyeh ith in you."
Merril meets Johnny in a dream.
Merril says that's another Lovecraft reference.  Carcosa says Lovecraft had his moments, but made some mistakes.  He then apologises to Merril for the actions of the Dagon cultists who gang raped her.  "They ain't nothin' to do with uth".  He says he has got great respect for her, he is an avatar of Nyarlatholtep and he kisses her.  Then she wakes up.

She is told by one of the cultists whose popped in to check on her that she's been there for days.  She is allowed her contact lenses back and sees the monster that has been raping her properly for the first time.  The woman leaves food and blankets for her and departs leaving her at the creature's mercy.  Merril bangs hysterically on the door crying for help, but the creature drags her by the ankles and into the water where he rapes her.  As he does so, a commentary on H.P Lovecraft's asexual nature takes place over the rape scene.
RAEG!!11
Can I just say how gross and innapropriate this discussion of Lovecraft's sex life within the context of this storyline (and during a rape sequence), especially how it might have affected and impacted on his writing.  How would Alan Moore like it if in a hundred years time people read his stuff and speculated on how his sex life seems to have resulted in NINETY PERCENT OF HIS FUCKING WORK USING RAPE AND/OR SEXUAL ASSAULT AS PART OF THEIR NARRATIVES?!  Grrragh!  Here's my mature and considered response via a different green, scaly monster.

So anyway. The detectives who were discussing Lovecrafts sexuality and how it did or didn't manifest in his work are also surprised to find how much his stuff has permeated popular culture, via board games and the like, you can even buy Cthulu beanies now.  This however is not getting them any further in investigating the Lovecraft linked serial murders.

Back with Merril, the Dagon demon is sitting quietly on the edge of the pool.  Merril offers him some food, as you do with your rapist (eyeroll).  Then he approaches her seemingly after more sex.

Merril: "No! I'm not fucking doing it, you understand?  You hurt me doing it like that.  I'm sore and I hurt.  What the fuck is wrong with you?"
Rape is bonding I guess.
Nice to get the detail she's been raped so much she's in physical pain, I guess that's one concession to the horribleness that Alan makes, well done Alan /golfclap. She then offers to wank him off and does so, him climaxing with a great stream of semen that Merril seems impressed by...  I take back my compliment and /golfclap. 

She then has a piss on the floor.  She doesn't want to go in the water in case he takes it as an invitation to rape.  He tastes her piss and suddenly looks happy and excited.  He takes her by the hand and leads her to the gate, he rips it away and takes her into the tunnel and dives down with her, letting her go so she can safely resurface in the sea not far from the shore of Salem.
Escape!
She arrives on the beach naked and people offer her a coat and a phone.  She calls for an FBI S.W.A.T team to come out to Salem immediately.  We jump forwards to Merril in her FBI clothes overseeing a raid upon the Whispers In The Darkness boutique and the tunnels underneath.  The cultists put up a fight as they retreat into the tunnels but are no match for the FBI.

Merril tells her boss about the creature, he says she won't be putting it in her report and that some combination of drugs and stress made her imagine it.  She also says she wasn't touched sexually during her ordeal.

The FBI follow the cultists into the tunnels, and find Gordon's body in a pit of quicklime. They also discover that someone else has been killing the cultists too.  They reach the room with the pool and find the "throwback" Dagon demon standing over some more dead cultists and riddle it with bullets.  Merril comes and looks at it as it floats dead in the blood soaked water.
At least the cultists get what they deserved.
We jump forwards a couple of months and Merril makes an appointment to see Aldo Sax again.  He speaks Aklo to her, she replies to him in kind.  In surprise he switches back to english.  He wants to know how she learned it, she say she's had it coming to her lately.  "Things are different for me now" she tells him.  She explains what happened after she was raped by the cult. 

Merril:  "They had a Gargoille de la Mer, Aldo.  Do you know what that is?"

She tells him she was fucked by it, then it killed the cultists and was killed in turn by the FBI.  Only she knows what happened between them.  She squicks Aldo out by telling him she jerked it off and it tasted her pee.  He stutters:

Aldo: "I-I haven't been with a woman.  Or a man.  I mean I'm not queer or anything.  I just... I mean... genitals, all that.  It's all just horrible."
We wind up back with Aldo.
She says she is telling him because he is the only person who'll understand.  She believes that Lovecraft's myths refer to events in the future.

Merril: "I understood why the thing sniffed my pee and then released me.  I understand how the Great Old Ones aren't Old.  They're New.  They're not even born yet.  I even understood where R'yleh must be."

Finally Aldo understands and says she's a "goddess.  I don't deserve your presence.  No one does."  She says look at the human race, it's vermin.  But "nevermind, he'll sort all that out once he arrives"  And she gets up and we see she is pregnant and she declares her self esteem has never been higher, guess being raped and impregnated by a demonic throwback will perk you up.... if you're an Alan Moore character.

Merril: "It's the end and the beginning.  He's beneath the waters now, but soon, in only a few months, he will come forth.  And until then he sleeps.  And dreams".
Pregnant!  What a twist!
So there we are.  Possibly the ultimate culmination of the author's love of using rape and sexual assault in his work.  If the rape had simply been the ones committed by the Dagon creature I'd have sighed, and put Moore in the Sin Bin for a couple of months on principle, but at least it would have had relevancy to how the story concludes unpleasant as it may be, when Lovecraft did allude to sex in the most roundabout way is was usually couplings between humans and "degraded creatures" (symbolising his very racist fear of miscegenation) so that at least has precedent.  But the gang rape by the Dagon cultists?  There was absolutely no need to see that, it has no link to anything you'll find in any Lovecraft story.  It tells us nothing about the cultists apart from them being evil which just leaving her with the Dagon demon would have told us.  It's disgusting and unecessary and I can make no excuses for it, it's significantly lowered my opinion of Alan Moore and when you combine it with the constant referring to Merrill as being a recovered sex addict and the nasty ruminations upon the real Lovecraft's sex life the implications of the scene become appalling.  I'd rather read the work of an asexual who included no sex whatsoever in his work than a supposed "sex positive" author like Moore who can't seem to help filling his stories up with rape and sexual assault. 

And he really has the most binary view of sex, it's either beautiful, magical, life affirming and upliftingly spiritual or it's nasty, rapey, violent and degradingly physical. What about sex that is funny?  Kinky?  Boring?  A fun way to pass the time before the TV show you want to watch is on? And all the other myriad types of sexy funtimes out there. Jacen Burrows is a superb artist which only serves to make things worse, like Batman: The Killing Joke, it looks gorgeous but depicts such ugliness as to be deeply uncomfortable reading especially as a woman. I think what also annoys me is the bait-and-switch of the Neonomicon tale, it's not a story that is about Lovecraftian themes, it's an Alan Moore story about H.P Lovecraft's sexuality, big difference. We get some lip service to the larger eldritch cosmic tales of Lovecraft right at the very end but the journey to get there has been so ugly and offensive it's impossible to care  And what on earth happened to the story about the cult murders, that fizzled out to no conclusion.  When the best promo quote you can muster for the back of the book says about the story "I don't know if it's morally acceptable to love something so horrific" (a quote from Brian K. Vaughan, incidentally a writer with a far more nuanced approach to sexuality in his comicbook work) well that gives you pretty fair warning of what you're going to be put through.  Back into the Sin Bin you go Alan and I have no idea if I am ever going to cover anything by you ever again!  Love and kisses, your ex-biggest fan.

8 comments:

  1. I was with you all the way to the point that you dissed 'The Killing Joke'. There's a line, Kyoko Pops, and you hath crossed it.:(

    :p

    But, yes. I was enjoying all the Mythos / Lovecraft / Ashton Smith references (though now i'll never be able to call a band 'Randolph Carter and the Ulthar Cats', which is totally a thing i'd do) until it All Got A Bit Too Meta and the characters started commenting on it. That's just shite and treating your reader like a dolt. Oh, Alan. Back to the Parliament of Trees with you. And stringing together a oad of references to other people's stuff, with crap humour and sex and rapey jokes in between? I do that every day just in forum posts. Alan Moore gets paid Big Bux for it. Justice? I think not.

    And the rapey wank-demon reminds me of the one from Urotsukidoji II. The one that rapily nails Amanojyuku's sister. These big green scaly guys have precedent.

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  2. Hah, I used to love The Killing Joke, but now I see it in the context of his wider body of work the writing and subject matter makes me queasy now, but the art by Brian Bolland is gorgeous.

    The story does read a bit like if HP Lovecraft got filtered through 4chan. And I can't get past the whole inference "you like HP Lovecraft? hahaha you must hate sex lol" tone it begins to take.

    The sad thing is the rapey wank demon is brilliantly illustrated, I'd love to see him in something none rapey like, oh I dunno, a more faithful look at HP's work but for now he sees to represent all the super-sex us poor "asexual" Lovecraft fans don't have.

    I must dig out Urotsukidoji II and rewatch now. I vaguely remember the sequence, but the film always annoys me for totally disregarding the end of the first film, the it gets written out of canon by the sequels and TV series.

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  3. The Urotsukidoji continuity problem is worse than UNIT dating (and i don't mean Captain Yates wanking off Corporal Palmer behind the bins). I usually slot the second movie in the middle of the first - maybe just before Niki gets his demon cock (isn't it glorious to be able to type something like that?). Seems to work OK that way.

    And Lovecraft fan = hate sex just doesn't compute to me, but then that may come from growing up watching Barbara Crampton in 'Re-Animator' and (especially) 'From Beyond'. Especially THAT scene. If you've seen the film, i'm sure you know the bit i mean.

    Oh, look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTQzgoo5wU0 Barbra Crampton being interviewed by Emily Booth. Ooh.

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  4. I have to admit I tended to treat each Urotsukidoji film as a seperate entity. Have you seen the three part uncut version of the first one yet?

    I don't generally think Lovecraft fans HATE sex, more that the stories appealed to geeky people during the awkward phase when their chosen passions were seen as lame especially by icky non-horror loving girls. I still find it hard to wrap my mind around geeks being out and proud lol!

    Ah Re-Animator, another film added to the list of ones I must add to my collection. I'm sure I'd appreciate it much more now than I did back when I was a teen.

    Damn I wish I could hear Youtube clips.

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  5. omg this was horrible! I mean I have never read any HP Lovecraft stuff, but I am mad on his behalf to now. bad Alan Moore!

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  6. Truly this is the worst thing I have covered on this blog. Ah well, at least I have Garth Ennis now.

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  7. Ah yes, 'The Killing Joke'. The one where Mr Moore was told, "Cripple the bitch."

    Some people don't even know what asexual means.

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  8. Yeah, that's what upsets me about the Killing Joke. I mean we got Oracle from it (sadly gone via retcon) but I think even Moore dislikes how that book ended up, Bolland art notwithstanding.

    The misrepresentation and mockery of asexuality really makes my blood boil in this as well.

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