What I’ve been reading: LOVECRAFT, Lovecraft-inspired, and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne

This week’s reading roundup is all about the graphic novel, and in honor of HPL’s birthday today, I’ve got two collections that are all about Lovecraft (and another one about a wisecracking robot, but we’ll get to that in a minute).

First up, LOVECRAFT, adapted from Hans Rodionoff’s screenplay by Keith Giffen, illustrated by Enrique Breccia and lettered by Todd Klein. The basic idea is nothing new, and one I’m not actually fond of: that Howard Phillip Lovecraft wasn’t original, creative, inventive, imaginative, or insane, but instead the things he wrote about were real, and monsters truly did follow him around. He merely wrote down the things he saw. I think this idea discredits the incredible amount of literary work the man actually did – his research, influences and the circle of writer friends and editors who helped shaped his writing as much as he shaped theirs. Forgiving that, the book is actually worth looking at. What’s most brilliant about it is the illustrations, watercolor blending of line and hue that suggests more than it defines. The paintings are bright and lovely if you can see the beauty in being presented with graphic depictions of violent sex, vivisected animals, and mental institution nightmares. I’d recommend this to fans of HPL’s work who’re familiar enough with his life to get what the writer is hinting at, and who’re looking for the imagery which HPL writes about but rarely gets illustrated.

VERTIGO, ISBN 1-4012-0143-1, the graphic novel is complete in this collection.

Next I read LOCKE & KEY V2, “Head Games”. The second assembled graphic novel of this acclaimed series, writer Joe Hill takes the story from its murderous beginning to a quieter place of more murder, betrayal, and really poor choices. (I reviewed LK V1 here, if you’re interested.) the great thing about this collection is that the kids don’t make unexpected choices. You may not have seen it coming, but they screw up in exactly the way you’d expect kids in that situation to screw up. It’s the kind of moment that makes you throw popcorn at the movie screen and yell about how they shouldn’t go into the woods alone … but you know they will, you know they have to, because that’s where the story’s taking them. Rodriguez’s imagery is as amazing as ever, and Hill doesn’t pull any many punches: good guys die, bad guys get away with it, and kids get left to pick up the pieces. I’m not sure I like where he’s going with the introduction of an autistic child who’s got, well, let’s call them “magical” friends. I know the rise of this disability makes these characters common in today’s media, and they should be, that’s how the world is now. I also know that no one wants to portray them as broken or bad or victims, because that pisses readers off, especially when readers happen to be parents of autistic kids. But the idea that the kid isn’t disabled, but has special abilities, and is the one person the bad guy can’t touch … I’ll have to see how the story unfolds but right now it feels as if Hill is backing away from a political problem instead of telling the story in the same dark and f’cked up way that the rest of the tale is presented.

IDW, ISBN 978-1600107610

After both of those books, I needed something I little happier. I found it in ATOMIC ROBO V1, “Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne”. Written by Brian Clevinger, art by Scott Wegener, with color by Ronda Pattison and letters by Jeff Powel, the series jumps back and forth through time, telling different pieces of Atomic Robo’s first 83 years of existence. It has everything you’d want from a retro-style modernist comic: video game jokes (Megaman, Jenkins, etc.), Nazis, mummies, steampunk, Carl Sagan being awesome, Stephen Hawking being a bastard, and a wise-cracking intelligent robot swinging his way through it all. It’s sarcastically funny, it’s got a hipster sensibility that perfectly meshes with the crisp, clean art – exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to translate well to t-shirts and messenger bags. It made me happy, which I don’t often find in the works I read (content, fulfilled, educated, thoughtful… sure, but happy is a little harder to come by). It’s a fun read, and I’m definitely going to be picking up the rest of the series soon.

Red 5 Comics, ISBN 978-0-9809302-0-7

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