Neonomicon is a graphic novel, originally released as a series of comics in 2010, written by Alan Moore. It is a sequel to a previous work, The Courtyard, and its events are primarily centralized in the H.P. Lovecraft mythos. To start off, I am well aware of the problematic elements in Lovecraft’s writing and personal views, but I have always enjoyed the overall world he created, and so a fresh take on it is generally a welcome addition to my personal library.
The story follows two FBI Agents, Merril Brears and Gordon Lamper, as they investigate a series of murders that was previously under the watch of another agent, Aldo Sax – before he succumbed to madness and committed his own identical murders. Taking the scraps of information they can salvage from his investigation, they begin to dig into the strange murders, all of which seem to be pointing to one shared element – H.P. Lovecraft and his writings.
I enjoyed a lot of aspects about this take on the Lovecraft world. It takes a very metafictional approach to his writings, offering a narrative that at once critiques him as a man, his body of work, and the cultish fandom that surrounds him. It allows Lovecraft’s world to coexist with Lovecraft himself, positioning him as a prophet, unaware of his own premonitions. This leaves a lot of room to explore his world without having to ignore the previously mentioned problematic elements in his work. While it is a little heavy on the fandom judgment, I think it’s mostly successful in juggling these elements into one cohesive story.
The illustrations in this are fantastic. The visuals are so striking that I think that might be one of the best aspects of the storytelling in this. There is one moment in particular, where Merril attempts to remove the veil from another character, that is so terrifyingly surreal that it was locked into my memory for days. The unconventional use of language, particularly Aklo, a fictional language that was used (though not invented) by Lovecraft, was also integral to the narrative. As characters slip further into the madness and realm of the Old Ones, they gain more understanding of this mystical language, which gives another gauge in which we can witness their mental deterioration.
I have the hardcover edition of this graphic novel, which includes The Courtyard as a prelude to the story itself, and so I actually find that piece of the story important to the enjoyment of the story overall. Sax is probably one of the most interesting characters in the story, and he has a cadence to his dialogue that is equal parts crude and eloquent. He’s reminiscent of Rorschach in some ways, in that he barely speaks in more than fragments of sentences, and yet makes poignant observations that come across as almost poetic at times.
Finally, I want to talk about Merril Brears. Intelligent, perceptive, and flawed, she had all the elements to make for a fantastic character, and yet fell painfully short. Even things that could have been presented as negative, slut-shaming things were handled with a deft hand (it is stated that Merril has struggled with sex addiction), and her affectionate yet platonic relationship with her partner, Lamper, was a very affirming addition. She is the person who recognizes the connection with Lovecraft, and makes most of the insightful discoveries that move the plot forward. This doesn’t seem to be enough to keep her from falling prey to the terrible tropes female characters so often have to fight against.
Merril finds herself in over her head as she investigates a cult with a penchant for ritual orgies. She finds herself disabled (glasses and contacts taken from her, effectively blinding her), and her partner is murdered almost immediately. Alone and helpless, she is raped and brutalized, by both the human participants, and a fishman creature that the cult members summon. Even through this ordeal, Merril keeps her strength, and is ultimately able to find a way to escape her situation. The ending is where I take my biggest point of contention – she finds herself pregnant, with what is implied to be Cthulhu, and finally feels that she has found a purpose in bringing him forth into the world.
There is precedent for this plot point in Lovecraft’s writing, certainly. The Dunwich Horror includes a pregnancy of this nature, and is one of the few Lovecraft stories to include any female characters at all. And almost all of his works involve a sense of total submission to the futility of their situation, for both men and women. But ultimately, I think Merril would have been better served had this plot point not involved her, or been eliminated altogether. There are certainly other ways to convey hopelessness in the face of the coming of these gods without reducing a woman down to her ability to carry a child – and to say otherwise is just lazy storytelling. After seeing such potential in her, having her entire point in the story reduced down this was an incredible disappointment. Unfortunately, rape and pregnancy as plot device are also a recurring aspect of Moore’s own writing, so the blame cannot be shouldered by the Lovecraft world alone.
Ultimately, I want to recommend this book to people as an interesting take on Lovecraft, but not as one that is particularly female-friendly. It is especially frustrating to see something come so close to greatness, only to fall prey to sexist tropes towards the end. So my final feelings on it are more like this – if you are already a fan of Moore’s graphic novels, or take a huge interest in the Lovecraft mythos, this is absolutely worth a read. Otherwise, you might be better off skipping this one.
Rating: 3 out of 5. Could have been so much higher, if Merril had turned out differently.
Scariness level: Mid range. There’s some pretty horrifying stuff going on with the cults. Also, the great sequence with Merril removing the veil was creepy as hell.
Violence level: It’s decently gory, with a spattering of sexual violence on top of that.
Bechdel test: Nooooope. Nope nope nope nope.
Mako Mori test: It is so frustrating, because I want to give this a pass. Merril’s personal narrative arc, we hardly knew ye.