Given how popular and influential his work is, it’s no surprise that H.P. Lovecraft’s stories have been adapted into comic form on numerous occasions. With that said, many of these adaptations have been lacking. Whether it be due to stilted attempts to lift the original narration with little modification or bland art that’s less evocative and more just muddy, Lovecraft-inspired comics tend to be rather drab. Must that always the case, though? This week Dark Horse released H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness Vol. 1, an adaptation by Gou Tanabe and translated by Zack Davisson. Does it succeed where similar comics have failed?
What’s it about?
According to the official summary courtesy of Dark Horse:
January 25, 1931: an expedition team arrives at a campsite in Antarctica . . . to find its crew of men and sled dogs strewn and dead. But a still more horrific sight is the star-shaped mound of snow nearby . . . for under its five points is a grave–and what lies beneath is not human!
At the Mountains of Madness is a journey into the core of Lovecraft’s mythos–the deep caverns and even deeper time of the inhospitable continent where the secret history of our planet is preserved–amidst the ruins of its first civilization, built by the alien Elder Things with the help of their bioengineered monstrosities, the shoggoths.
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One of this book’s most successful elements is how well it conveys the time period of Antarctic exploration, as well as the sense of adventure surrounding it. From the way different members of the expedition interact to their understandings of history, the characters read believably as living in the early 1900s. Their dialogue is also very well-written, capturing all the excitement and hesitancy the explorers feel during their journey.
Another great aspect of this adaptation is how well it grounds the horror in human and scientific intrigue. There’s a sense as one watches events unfold that a lot of the tragedy results from human ego and poor decision-making. It’s like watching a horror film and knowing that the protagonists are walking right into trouble. With that said, it’s not irritating to read– the characters’ actions all flow forth naturally from their motivations and temperaments. All the focus on the scientific record is also effective, as it both highlights how little humans actually know and raises a terrifying possibility: that the forces at work here don’t adhere to any systems and concepts known to humankind. These scenes also add an air of mystery that helps propel the dramatic tension forward.
Though the writing has a lot going for it, the story has a very slow burn and takes quite a while to really get going. Fortunately, Tanabe’s art is consistently strong enough to both keep one’s attention in the beginning and to enhance the more interesting drama later on. Most of this volume is filled with nature imagery as the explorers make their way across Antarctica, and Tanabe conveys the continent’s beauty and terrifying atmosphere effectively. Shots of illusions (at least, what the characters think are illusions) of cities in the sky are particularly arresting. The amount of texture and impressively rendered facial expressions throughout is also great. The inhuman creatures that the protagonists unearth in the Antarctic are appropriately unnerving, and I look forward to seeing more of them in Vol. 2.
Is it good?
All in all, Gou Tanabe’s H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness is probably the best Lovecraft adaptation I’ve read to date. The art brings the Antarctic adventure to life, and Tanabe does a good job conveying the time period and the character drama. My one complaint is that it is a slow burn to the point of feeling like a bit of a slog at times, but I would still recommend the book to any Lovecraft fan. I definitely plan to read Vol. 2.