Publisher: Boom Studios
Writers: Raven Gregory, Sam Costello, Robert Tinnell, Jeff Lester, Mark Rahner, Michael Alan Nelson, Christopher Sequeira, Christine Boylan, Luke Burns, William Messner-Loebs, Shane Oakly
Artists: Sergio Carrera, Axel Medellin Machain, Milton Sobriero, Chee, Unai, Aritz, W. Chewie Chan, Roger Langridge, Andrew Ritchie, David Hitchcock
Review by: Archie Easter
Cthulu Tales Vol. 4: “The Darkness Beyond” is the most recent collection of comics from Boom Studios’ monthly series Cthulu Tales. Collecting issues 9-12, the book features 11 stories from a bevy of authors and artists based on the Cthulu mythos of writer H.P. Lovecraft. Since there are so many different stories, writers and art styles on display here, there’s no shortage of variety. Unfortunately in this particular volume, the results are definitely a mixed bag. There are a few notable standouts, though.
First up, Jeff Lester’s (of Sam & Max fame) tongue-in-cheek “Comeback Tour” amusingly sees Lovecraft’s titular character Cthulu as the beleaguered leader of an ailing rock band. Shane Oakly’s “a whistle for the deep” actually succeeds in telling a great story that doesn’t necessarily require past knowledge of Lovecraftian lore to enjoy. It’s a bit of a surprise then that of all the comics this one adheres the closest to the source material, with a story set in 1910 that seemingly runs in parallel to Lovecraft’s classic “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” Christopher Sequeira’s “Corporation” is also a satisfying read, featuring a high powered business woman’s discovery that the “Cthulu” is in the details.
While the majority of the other comics are competent stories, a few in particular seem to pull the book down. Bill Messner Loebs’ “Arkham SVU” starts with an interesting and potentially amusing premise (a parody of Law & Order SVU set in Lovecraft’s fictional town of Arkham, Mass.) but most of its jokes fall flat, ultimately culminating in a lackluster ending. Michael Alan Nelson’s two part tale, “Where am I” (which begins with the discovery of a disembodied brain and pair of eyes that are still alive), starts well, but ultimately leads to an ending that feels rushed and doesn’t pack that much of a punch.
There are a wide variety of artistic styles presented, all of which seem uniquely fitted to the tone and setting of each story, and all are very well done. It is particularly worth noting how well the art styles reflect the changing time periods, with older stories drawn in a more “classic comic” style. Many references to Lovecraft’s stories and locations abound throughout the book. Whether it’s Abdul Alhazred’s Necronomicon, or pivotal locations like Innsmouth and Arkham, there’s no shortage of nods and winks to the original tales.
Save for “a whistle in the deep” however, none of these stories follow the source material particularly well. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, many of the stories unfortunately don’t stand well on their own without resorting to the use of nostalgia and name-dropping Lovecraft’s locals and settings to hook readers. There are also a noticeable lack of the surprise endings that punctuate many of Lovecraft’s original works (and can even be seen in many other comics in previous volumes of Cthulu Tales). While Volume 4 is an entertaining read overall, many of the stories simply don’t compare to the works in previous volumes. Even though there are a few noteworthy exceptions here, it’s hard to recommend this volume to any but the most diehard of Lovecraft fans.
For more info, www.boom-studios.net
Pads & Panels received a copy of the book courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.