“Reanimator” #1 takes the famed Lovecraft character and… frankly I’m not too sure what it does wit hhim. Read our review below as we try and figure that one out. Spoilers ahead!
Written by Keith Davidsen
Art by Randy Valiente
Dr. Herbert West, The Reanimator, returns! Setting up shop in New Orleans, the brilliant Dr. West continues his life’s work: the revival of the dead by purely chemical means. To accomplish this task, he recruits Susan Greene, a young and wide-eyed pharmacologist fascinated by his macabre experiments. Initially unfazed by West’s unorthodox practices (including how he funds his research – by selling zombie brain fluid as a narcotic), Susan may regret her scientific curiosity as sinister forces – those aligned with Elder Gods and Haitian Voodoo – begin to align against the Reanimator!
Dynamite Entertainment proudly resurrects The Reanimator, H.P Lovecraft’s notorious mad scientist, in a fear-fraught four-issue miniseries! Take what you love best about the television shows “Breaking Bad” and “Walking Dead”, throw in Cthulhu tentacle terror and backwater Louisianan superstition, and you have the all-new horror comic hit of 2015!
Just so we can get this out of the way first thing: Re-Animator is my favorite movie of all ever. It’s funny, kind of scary, and filled with some truly insane moments. Plus, Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West is one of the most underrated performances of all time. At first it may come off as a shlock B-movie, so much so that you might not know the original story is written by HP Lovecraft. Yet, what made that film successful, compared to the widely panned source material that Lovecraft wrote for thirty dollars, was its personality. Herbert West is a great character, one who can serve as both hero, villain, and everything in between due to his defining characteristic: his passion for science. Specifically, his passion to create a potion that will reanimate (aye there’s the rub) the dead. If you’ve never seen the movie or read the short story, that’s all you need to know about him. He’s a man fueled by hubris which can sometimes be funny and sometimes be horrifying.
In “Reanimator” #1 from Dynamite comics that passion is still present, but buried under a thousand plot points that just come right after the other. “Reanimator” isn’t so much a comic about Herbert West as it is a comic with every Lovecraft trope thrown in for no discernible reason. The issue centers around Susan Greene, a scientist and inevitable lab partner of one Herbert West. For a POV character, she’s actually sort of compelling. Greene doesn’t start off as your typical green to the gills (ho ho ho) horror movie heroine. She’s an amoral scientist like West who sells lab equipment and sells it on the black market. That seems like an interesting relationship to explore, two scientists who disregard morals for completley different reasons, but as soon as West shows up, things begin to fall apart.
For one, Herbert West just kind of shows up. He’s more or less a normal looking dude with no suspense built around him. Sure, he has a giant bodyguard who may or may not be an Old One (?!) and still makes the Reanimtor potion but none of those cover the fact that there’s no presence to the character. And somehow, there’s no time to build that presence either. Most of the issue consists of a whirlwind of ideas that are given no space to land. Not only was West brought to life by black magic which is somehow not the most WHAT moment of the comic. And honestly, it’s one of my favorite ideas. How pissed would West be if sorcery was able to bring him back to life but not science created by his own hand? That’s a place I haven’t really seen the character go before and no? We’re moving on to West selling dead people adrenaline? And now that adrenaline’s being injected by a naked man named Croceus Rex sacrificing people for straight up Cthulu? And Rex is in a gang war with Baron Fucking Samedi and his army of anime cosplay girls?
On one hand, I get it. West is a Lovecraftian character and since his story is so isolated from the others (because Lovecraft hated it but whatever) why not tie him into the whole Cthulu mythos? There’s no reason not to but when all these elements are smashed together like they are in “Reanimator” #1, it feels suffocated. If Lovecraftia Horror is defined by dread, then how are we supposed to dread when every other page has a shocking twist that’s laid out in increasingly plain ways. With all due respect to Randy Valiente, his art is just a bit too rough and immediate for my tastes. West preens evilly to readers and though designs for the Cthulu Club’s masks are fantastic they’re still offset by other characters having straight up yaoi hands.
Final Verdict: 4.2 – Sadly, “Reanimator” #1 doesn’t have the space to really work. The idea of Herbert West coming into conflict with other aspects of Lovecraftian mythos and having a mysterious relationship to his lab partner (convenient as it may be) could make for a really interesting comic. Unfortunately, Davidsen and Valiente have already shown all the cards in their hand, gutting “Reanimator” for much of its suspense. It’s easy to understand why they would try to get all the Lovecraftian elements out in the first issue, but it leads to a comic that’s more focused on being about how it’s a Lovecraft comic rather than just being a scary comic. It’s clear Davidsen and Valiente have some idea of what makes these people tic, it’s just a matter of pulling back a bit and allowing these characters to be, well, characters.