The world of Lovecraftian horror awaits as Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows return to the world they introduced in “Neonomicon” except this time they’re taking a trip back to 1919 to see where it all began.
Read on for our spoiler free review of “Providence” #1… if you dare.
Written by Alan Moore
Illustrated by Jacen Burrows
The most important work of 2015 begins here with the long-awaited arrival of Alan Moore’s breathtaking epic PROVIDENCE with his artistic partner Jacen Burrows. In his most carefully considered work in decades, Moore deconstructs all of Lovecraft’s concepts, reinventing the entirety of his work inside a painstakingly researched framework of American history. Both sequel and prequel to NEONOMICON, PROVIDENCE begins in 1919 and blends the mythical visions of HPL flawlessly into the cauldron of racial and sexual intolerance that defined that era on the East Coast of America. Every line from artist Jacen Burrows is perfectly honed to complete this immersive experience. The result is a breathtaking masterpiece of sequential art that will define modern horror for this generation. Invoking a comparison it to a prior literary masterpiece is not something to be handled lightly, but in scope, importance and execution: Providence is the Watchmen of horror.
The works of H.P. Lovecraft have been trawled through and expanded upon for decades upon decades to the point where the figure of Cthulhu has even entered pop culture lexicon. The Great Old Ones have gone from literary figures talked about in hushed whispers to appearing on South Park. Now, I’m not one to say that this is necessarily a bad thing, but I do believe that it has diluted the horror of Lovecraft’s creations to see them show up on the boxes of roleplaying games. Apparently Alan Moore thought the same thing when he and Jacen Burrows created “Neonomicon” for Avatar Press, a four-issue series that dealt with two FBI agents uncovering an ancient cult that may or may not have been the in-universe inspiration for Lovecraft’s writing. To tell the truth, I wasn’t a fan of that series. Moore’s writing was solid and Burrow’s art was gorgeously dark and stark in its horror, but my problem was that the horror felt too obvious in its attempts to be shocking through gratuitous sexual violence.
Moore and Burrows are back, though, to take their exploration of H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos back to where it all began: Providence, Rhode Island in 1919. “Providence” #1 is the kind of slow burning, methodically paced first issue that, while it sets everything up and lets you get to know and understand the protagonist – in this case it’s journalist Robert Black – of the story, it focuses more on intriguing the reader rather than hooking them. There’s no big cliffhanger moment to this issue, no moment design to shock you into buying the next issue. In fact, the story here is played out so methodically and against the conventions of how a first issue should be laid out – there’s really no hint of the horror to come and focuses instead on the emotional turmoil of the man character as it frames an investigation around the loss of his loved one – that it really speaks to how confident Moore and Burrows are in this series.
While “Neonomicon” played into the kind of horror I would describe as exploitation and perhaps even a little trashy at times, “Providence” is Alan Moore at a much more refined pace. In fact, this issue doesn’t even dive into the horror, instead it acts more as an introduction to Robert Black and the time and place he lives in while hinting at the larger story to come through a conversation he has that takes up most of the middle of the book. Moore here reminds me much more of his work on “From Hell” and “Providence” is all the better for it as the writing is subtle and character-focused while weaving a wide emotional tapestry for the story to fold out on. There’s something almost Kubrick-ian in how Moore and Burrows allow this issue to unfold, showing the reader sequences that they likely won’t figure out what they’re seeing until the end of the issue and even then, it won’t truly make sense until the series unfolds. It’s a level of trust Moore and Burrows seem to have in the reader that allows them to tell their story the way they want and the reader will follow them.Continued below
The meticulous pacing of Moore’s writing is definitely reflected in the artwork of Jacen Burrows and creates a gorgeous issue for it. Burrows employs a horizontal, four-panel grid layout for every page of this issue and it gives the issue, to use an awfully overused comparison, a cinematic feel. It gives each panel a wide canvas which Burrows fills with the minute details of the life of Providence at the time which brings the book to life. While Moore and Burrows focus mostly on Black throughout the issue – with a sub-story taking place over four silent pages space throughout the issue – Burrows’ attention to detail in the backgrounds gives the story a sense of weight by placing it in a living, breathing setting. Though, while the setting feels alive, Burrows looks at it through a stark, clean and, there’s that word again, meticulous style as if the reader is a silent observer watching a tragedy unfold before them without being able to interfere.
The starkness of Burrows’ art is really brought home by the colour by Juan Rodriguez, who brings a very natural and muted palette to the book. Rodriguez manages to walk the fine line between keeping many of the colours of the book earthy and muted without draining the life out of the artwork and ending up with something simply grey and drab. Each page has a dash of colour that stands out, often Black’s navy suit and red hair, against the washed out world of Providence, but the colours are never too saturated that it feels noticeable. The colour work is yet another element of this book that feels meticulous and subtle and goes a long way in establishing the artistry on display.
Finally, the pièce de résistance of this issue is the final four pages that come in the form of a letter written by Black in a journal. This letter chronicles and essentially sums up the events of the issue, but contextualises them in his emotional state and gives a look into the mind of the man the reader has been following around throughout the issue. This is a great closing note for the issue as the hand-written style of the lettering brings that 1919 aesthetic to the page and the writing hits home the emotional loss that this character has gone through.
The true horrors of H.P. Lovecraft’s work is in how he brought forward the idea of cosmic horrors, of unknowable rituals and ancient beings and the idea that we are but small and entirely inconsequential in the grand scheme of the universe, and presented them in the everyday normality of small towns. From Innsmouth to Dunwich to Kingsport, Lovecraft’s towns were small and they were ordinary and they were often places of unspeakable horrors lurking just behind the surface. With “Providence”, Moore and Burrows bring that feeling back to the normal, everyday town that Lovecraft grew up and while this issue may be a slow burn and may only hint at the horrors to come, it is stark and meticulous and engaging. This is Moore back at what he does best and he and Jacen Burrows are set to bring a whole new era of horror to comics.
Final Verdict: 7.8 – Definitely not a book for everyone, but for fans of Lovecraft and his works or that kind of horror, this is one to check out.