Neonomicon: Issues 1–4
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Jacen Burrows
In 1927, HP Lovecraft published a long essay entitled “Supernatural Horror in Literature”, which contains the well-known quote: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Fine words, indeed. Many works of horror explore this concept, preying on our fears, to name just a few, of the dark, otherness, death, betrayal, violence, and sex. This taxonomy is by no means complete, but the last is of particular significance when considering both Lovecraft and Moore and Burrows’s latest foray into territories Lovecraftian, Neonomicon.
Lovecraft’s works are notorious for their absence of sex, and when coupled with what we know about Lovecraft’s life, belie a man to whom the sexually repressive agendas of the most conservative of American evangelicals would be indicative of a rebuilt Sodom and Gommorah. Rumours abound about his latent homosexuality, and this is entirely possible, but even the men in Lovecraft’s works are devoid of even the slightest smidgen of testosterone or sexual proclivity. The only possible reference to sex in Lovecraft comes in the form of the monsters. As Moore points out in some of Neonomicon‘s dialogue: “You know? The monsters and all that? They’re like a lot of cocks and pussies crawling around.” Perhaps not the most eloquent of explanations, but the point is clear, and it’s what Moore uses to propel Neonomicon forward – the absence of sex in Lovecraft was hiding the stories’ actual impetus, and that Lovecraft was writing about sex from day one.
Fine, as theories go, and perfectly acceptable, and I’m sure many fans and students of the genre would agree. Where the acceptability of this theory finds itself in a nuclear wasteland of a mess, however, is in its execution. Simply put, Neonomicon is exploitative and an embarrassment.
First, the plot:
woman investigates cult
woman captured by cult
woman raped by cult
woman raped by monster
woman impregnated by monster
woman to give birth to monster
This series is offensive from the first few pages of the first issue. The main character, Merril Brears, and her partner go to question an incarcerated fellon. The reader discovers by page 4 (page 3 makes a slight reference to it), through conversations with her partner, that Brears is a reformed sex-addict. Ah, I see: the young, hard-as-nails, attractive, sex-addicted federal agent. I felt as if I were at the start of a bad Warren Ellis rip-off. Admittedly, I was surprised to discover Brears wasn’t a goth with multiple piercings, until I got to page 14, when there she is, entering Club Zothique, done up to the nines with too much eyeshadow, a collar, and spikey hair. Oh, there’s the young, hard-as-nails, attractive, sex-addicted federal agent cum goth we’re looking for. Why I kept reading, I’m really not sure. There are some interesting Lovecraft-related references throughout all of the first issue, but they pale into insignificance when compared to this trite objectification of the main character.
The reason they’re at Zothique, by the way, is to capture an elusive cult member by the name of Johnny Carcosa, whom we later discover is the avatar of Nyarlathotep, Lovecraft’s creature with a thousand faces (most of Carcosa’s face is hidden by a bandana – such symbolism!). As they hunt him down, the reader is assaulted with an unnecessary and gratuitous panel of Carcosa’s naked mother, and she has slit her own throat. She lies spread-eagled on the bed, and strewn about the floor are dildos and strap-on penises, which also manage to find themselves in other panels as the policemen go through their apartment. Not that it’s a major plot point, but they lose Carcosa, who melts into an otherworldly chalk drawing (…you know my name is Simon) drawn on a courtyard wall outside the apartment building.
Fast-forward to issue 2, where rape is the name of the game. Our reformed sex-addict federal agent and her partner have infiltrated a sex cult in Salem, Massachusetts. Prior to the revolting end of the issue, the reader is subjcted to several panels focussing directly on Brears’s breasts. She and her partner are in a hotel room, and they are changing into their disguises – we’re shown her body in great detail, but we see very little of him. It’s reminiscent of mainstream movies: yes, you can show breasts, but you cannot show a penis! For shame! Anyway, everything goes horribly wrong at the cult meeting, and Brears’s partner is shot, and she is raped by several of the cult members while the others fornicate around them in a dingy, revolting swimming pool. As awful as this is, it’s made even worse visually by the panels – Brears has lost her contact lenses, and the art and captions reflect the blurriness of her vision, but the clarity of the dialogue, which I’m not going to bother quoting here.
Enter monster dong. The sex is to bring about one of the Deep Ones, one of Lovecraft’s underwater abominations that serve the Great Old One Cthulhu; the creature is drawn to pheromones, it seems. As Brears suffers further humiliation and assault in the background, we’re shown the Deep One’s large, green penis and its semen upon one of the cult members’ faces (a woman, of course). The Deep One takes an interest in Brears, much to the dismay of the rest of the cult (they all want their turn), but they’re happy to present her to it, and the issue ends with the creature’s eyes.
There is some brief dialogue in issue 3 that enraged me, however. In brief, Brears is a captive of the cult and the creature, and is being raped in the same swimming room. As she lies there, her face bruised and crying with the monster’s hand upon the back of her neck, she drifts off into a dream world. She ends up in R’yleh, Cthulhu’s underwater and otherworldly city. She meets and speaks with the masked Carcosa (he speaks with a speech impediment), and the following is said:
Brears: “I really am a dirty fucking whore. My pussy’s wet right now.”
Carcosa: “That’th becauthe thomething’th thecrewing you. Thee, all thith ith a dream. Ath for your real thituation, thith fuck you’re having, it’th a Deep One.”
Please stop. On top of trite, utterly banal generalized characters, the regular subjugation and objectification of women, and the crude and gratuitous use of rape as a plot device, the reader is told here and later on that this all causes a relapse of the main character’s sex addiction. This is a gross masturbatory rape fantasy (“No, please! Don’t! It hurts! But, but, I like it . . . Oh, my… It’s so good!) that is exploitative and insulting. Brears even forgives the monster, if not the cult (they all die at the hands of the police and the Deep One by the end of issue 4), as the end result is that she is the one foretold, the saint who will bring forth great Cthulhu (there’s even some tacky Mary references in issues three and four).
What is also repulsive about this miniseries is that, in the past, Moore has written some extremely strong women characters in comics. They’re often women who deny the typical objectification endemic to the medium (I am thinking primarily of superhero comics, here), but in Neonomicon, we take seventy steps backward. Brears is a victim from start to finish, and I, for one, am sick of seeing women as the victims in comic books. It’s a conceit that a lot of fantastic writers, and I used to count Moore among them, strove to annihilate, and yet here it is again, and as it’s in an adult series by a non-mainstream publisher, on gratuitous display.