A relatively decisive win this week means that there are spoilers ahead for…
Only The End Of The World Again
Writer: Neil Gaiman (Adapted by P. Craig Russell)
Artist: Troy Nixey (Layouts by P. Craig Russell)
Cover: Troy Nixey
The other day I was thinking about actor Rutger Hauer.
Except I wasn’t really thinking about Rutger Hauer, because I could not, for the life of me, remember his name.
I remembered that he portrayed Roy Batty in Blade Runner, that he was in Sin City, and that he was the topic of discussion on more than one occasion in some of the books in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.
But as to the actual name of the star of Hobo With A Shotgun, in that moment, I didn’t have the first clue.
In an earlier time, I would have set my subconscious to working on solving this problem, and likely awoken with a start at 4 AM some morning saying, “Rutger Hauer!” But this is a post-internet world, so I simply looked him up.
The point is, my memory isn’t what it once was, not that it was ever that great, and the mental skills that I once used to compensate for (once somewhat less-frequent) lapses in memory have withered and atrophied to a large degree.
I mention this because when I picked up this adaptation of a Neil Gaiman story, I knew that it was a story I had read in some collection of his work (Smoke and Mirrors, for the record), but beyond that…nothing.
This is no reflection on the story itself, nor am I suggesting that it’s not memorable, even though I couldn’t remember it, because, well, Rutger Hauer.
As I read the adaptation, though, the vague recollection of having read the original came more sharply into focus, and soon I found myself actually remembering it in the way that, before the internet, I might have eventually come to remember a particular Dutch actor.
The setting of the story is the Lovecraftian town of Innsmouth, where a man named Lawrence Talbot has taken up residence and works as an adjustor. Lawrence is having a bad morning, particularly given that it’s actually late in the afternoon, mostly because he’s waking up after having an even worse night.
Talbot is a werewolf, and this is the day after his monthly transformation, a day that starts by vomiting on the bathroom floor, and noting that, contained in the vomit, are the fingers of a small child.
He stops at a bar on his way to work, and once he’s in his office is surprised to find an old man there sleeping, though the man doesn’t allow the fact that he’s asleep from talking to Lawrence about the imminent – but then again, isn’t it always imminent? – end of the world.
From there, he heads next door to visit a fortune teller (it doesn’t go well), then, noticing that there are men waiting to ambush him in his office, he heads back to the bar.
After noting the absence of the patrons who had been there earlier, Lawrence learns from the bartender the other customers are up at the cliffs performing a ritual to bring about the end of the world.
Lawrence, accompanied by the bartender, makes his way to the cliffs, where he finds the old man who was in his office, as well as the men who had been waiting to ambush him. In the waters below are the townspeople, including his landlady, who have assumed froglike forms.
The fortune teller is also in attendance, and it seems that Lawrence is the guest of honor, as the stars are in the right alignment to summon the Elder Gods and end the world, and all that’s required is the sacrifice of a werewolf. And, of course, the easiest way to kill a werewolf is when he’s not in his lupine form.
However, even though it’s ahead of schedule, Lawrence transforms, and attacks the fortune teller, finding himself battling her underwater – where she has also transformed into something…else – and after emerging victorious, thus disrupting the ritual. The enraged bartender who remained behind during the struggle, lunges at the wolf, who simply moves out of the way and allows the bartender’s momentum to carry him over the edge of the cliff.
The old man provides some exposition to the wolf – it was, somewhat ironically, the propitious celestial alignment that brought about the change in Lawrence that prevented the end of the world – and soon though the man continues on, telling him important things, the wolf grows bored and restless and heads into the forest to find a late-night snack.
In the morning, Lawrence wakes, and after a hawk flying overhead drops a small, dead squid on the ground in front of him, turns his (naked) back on Innsmouth and walks away towards the nearest city.
That straightforward summary of the plot – which skips a few details – doesn’t really tell the whole story, of course. The more interesting elements are in the interactions between Lawrence and some of the townsfolk, most notably the nonchalant manner in which pretty much everyone he encounters, out of the blue, offers advice and suggestions – pretty much all of which involve dying – for how to deal with the curse of lycanthropy.
The setting itself is a significant part of the story as well. As I’ve mentioned in the past, horror isn’t really my genre, so my familiarity with the works of Lovecraft are largely the result of cultural osmosis and from reading things – like this – that were inspired by his work. Still, I’m familiar with the gist of the mythos, and one of the things I find interesting in works set in a Lovecraftian universe is the way the familiar is made unfamiliar. In the broad strokes, the world is just like ours, but it’s when you get into the details that you notice that things are a bit askew, such as when Lawrence reads a note from his landlady – she leaves him a lot of notes – talking about the Book of Revelations [sic], which, honestly, wouldn’t be all that odd in our world, but specifically talking about how it mentions the Elder Gods rising up from the oceans. I don’t recall John of Patmos mentioning that. Not in those terms, at least.
The theme suggested by the title is present in the stories, both in telling and in showing, as the sleeping man informs Lawrence that the world is always coming to an end, and the end is always being averted, often through the simplest of actions. For example, simply stepping aside when someone charges at you with a ritual dagger.
The story originally appeared in an anthology of stories set in Innsmouth and was inspired in part by the novel A Night In The Lonesome October by the late Roger Zelazny, which is another story I have a dim recollection of having read – there is very little that Zelazny wrote that I haven’t read, after all – but can’t remember in the particulars. (See: Hauer, Rutger)
(It’s also worth noting, as some of you most likely did, that Larry Talbot was the name of the original Wolfman.)
I’m not familiar with Troy Nixey, but I like his art here, as it combines a strange sense of anatomy – fitting, I suppose, for the subject matter – with a tremendous amount of attention to small details. It would be interesting to see the style used in animation, and an adaptation of this story, with this style, would have been a good fit for MTV’s Oddities, if the show were still around and were more of an anthology-style series than it was back when it existed.
This volume is a new printing of the existing comic, originally printed by Oni Press, and as a very interesting bonus, in the pages that follow the story proper, it includes scans of the original layouts by Russell side-by-side with scans of Nixey’s inked art. Pretty neat.
Neil Gaiman first made a name for himself in comics, but it’s been some time since he’s done any proper comics, so it’s nice to see some of his prose work being adapted in this fashion, so that comics-readers can get a Gaiman fix. Some other examples of this are linked in…
NEIL GAIMAN’S HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES – From the Locus Award-winning short story by Neil Gaiman–one of the most celebrated authors of our time– and adapted in vibrant ink-and-watercolor illustrations by the Daytripper duo of Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, this original hardcover graphic novel is absolutely not to be missed!
FORBIDDEN BRIDES OF THE FACELESS SLAVES IN THE SECRET HOUSE OF THE NIGHT OF DREAD DESIRE – A celebrated send-up of gothic literature, beautifully adapted into a dark, brooding, and oddly comical graphic novel. Somewhere in the night, a raven caws, an author’s pen scratches, and thunder claps. The author wants to write fiction: stories about frail women in white nightgowns, mysterious bumps in the night, and the undead rising to collect old debts. But he keeps getting interrupted by the everyday annoyances of talking ravens, duels to the death, and his sinister butler.
THE SANDMAN VOL. 1: PRELUDES NOCTURNES – I mean, duh, of course I’m going to recommend Sandman.
Does anyone really want this? Really? Okay, but I’m getting pretty close to dropping this book.
Anyway, in Bettie Page #7 we discover that Bettie was sent to Cannes to retrieve an artifact from her now-dead Russian contact. Said artifact being the odd jewel in the necklace she had back in Hollywood that powered the flying saucer that was part of the commie plot to convince the US of A that an alien invasion was underway. It turns out that the jewel was found inside the crater left behind by the Tunguska Event.
Bettie finds the artifact in her late contact’s room, and she and her partner narrowly avoid getting caught by the Reds…or do they?
Before we wrap things up this week, I just wanted to add something of a programming – and personal – note. I don’t want to jinx things – or do I? – but it’s looking as though I’m on the verge of getting a job. From the perspective of forcing me out of my current reclusive lifestyle, and, you know, bringing in income, this is a (potentially) good thing, but it could be deleterious to OpenDoor Comics in general, Worldtamer in particular, and downright deadly to the Weigh In and Spotlight, given the demands that having a job again would place on my time and energy.
Maybe I could continue doing Spotlight Sundays, but my commute for this (potential) job would mean that I probably wouldn’t pick up my comics at all during the week, which would mean less time for voting, less time for reading, and less time for gathering my thoughts by Sunday.
I say this not to prepare you for the day on which I make an announcement about how I’m shutting this feature down, but to ask you to do whatever you can to make sure that I don’t have to.
So, once again, consider all the ways that you can help keep the dream of OpenDoor Comics – which extends beyond these weekly write-ups – alive, and make it possible for me to avoid having to dash myself against the rocks of being a cubicle-dweller in pursuit of the siren song of collecting a regular paycheck.
So tell people about OpenDoor Comics, make a donation, maybe actually buy something in the Recommended Reading, as I would get a small cut of that, become a patron, or, best of all, start making comics of your own using the platform I’m trying to provide.
Okay, with that out of the way, that does it for this Spotlight Sunday. Be sure to come back for Weigh In Wednesday (While it lasts!) to see what I bought and to cast your vote for which comic you want me to ramble on about next week!