Publisher: Avatar Press
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Jacen Burrows
Release Date: 20th April, 2016
When Providence was announced as the “Watchmen of Horror”, I dismissed it as pure hyperbole, even when the writer was Alan Moore himself.
There are those who’d claim that Moore lost his mojo somewhat in recent years and, as much as I adore his work, his last two League series left me rather cold, as the focus seemed to shift from a telling a satisfying story to a game of spot-the-reference. Even his previous excursion into Lovecraft via Neonomicon was a series that divided critical opinion. Many fans recoiled from its grim sexual violence and, as both sequel and prequel to that notorious title, I did wonder which way Providence would go.
Well bugger me, but the bearded genius might just pull it off here. If this collection of the first four issues is any indication, anyway. Providence is an absolute revelation, and proof yet again that when Moore brings his considerable talents to full bear there is no-one in comics quite like him.
Our protagonist here is Robert Black, a reporter who quits his job in preparation for the writing of his first novel ‘Marblehead: An American Undertow’. He takes a cross-country trip trying to track down a copy of ‘Hali’s Booke of Wisdom’, an ancient tome said to drive men mad. This brings him into contact with various members of the secretive occult group the ‘Stella Sapiente’, many of whom will doubtless be familiar to fans of Lovecraft.
Moore’s great skill is in bringing those unnamable horrors out of the shadows, commenting on the man, his work and his times. The dichotomy of HPL being the quintessential outsider yet being horribly intolerant of anything he considered to be “other” – whether race, religion, gender or sexuality – is something Moore is addressing here with bracing conviction, nuance and thoughtfulness. It’s not for nothing that our hero is both Jewish and homosexual and Moore calls out Lovecraft’s unsavoury worldview from the off.
This is light-years ahead of Neonomicon in scope, ambition and effect, with a stunning power to disturb, provoke and unsettle the audience in a way that old Howard Phillip himself would doubtless appreciate. There was one scene late on that actually made my heart skip, a not inconsiderable thing to do in a comic for the most part. But it’s testament to the skill of both Moore and artist Jacen Burrows that they do it so easily and with aplomb, both in perfect synthesis and at the peak of their powers.
I’m gonna stick my neck out here and say that ten years from now, when people talk about Moore’s best work, Providence will be a part of that conversation. A masterpiece in the making and a horror comic unlike anything on the shelves at the moment.
The writer of this piece was: Chris Downs
Chris Tweets from @ChrisDownsy