Taking another week off video games I wanted to share news of a special treat I found. I did not grow up as a comic-book kid. I had a few, I recall distinctly. There was a Godzilla issue with a picture from the movie Orca on the back of it. I had a Warlords comic with a green skinned sea woman on the cover, called Song of Ligia. (I think I had a crush on her and wonder if it started my fascination with sea people. I’ll ask Squid-girl next time I’m in Innsmouth.) And there were a few UFO and Outer Space comics which had a magnificent section called What if… Those sections were my favorites. (I’d love to get my hands on those again.) But that was the extent of the comic books I remember having. Strangely, I have long hated most superhero comics. They serve as little more than an artists wet-ink dream. A lot of BAM, BOOM, POWs, and then you get those horrid team up extravaganzas, which are nothing more than a chance for the artist to paint a line-up of his or her favorite characters. Those scenes never make sense and they are just too cluttered. They are supposed to tell you about some big villain that needs all the superheroes to beat but everything from dialogue to resolution ends up being tedious. So I never had a love of them and never needed to own many, let alone bother reading them.
It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that a friend challenged me with a few graphic novels and upon reading those (Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman), I realized there’s a reason we call them “novels”. They are full fledged stories with artwork to depict what we are seeing; in many cases, much like a movie. When the are done well, they are as enjoyable as any novel. There is a sense that we are watching a scene-for-scene recreation of a movie, but the movie plays entirely in your head with artistic pictures on the page that our brain links together. Finding a good graphic novel is worth its weight in gold, but sadly, many of them end up being very mediocre. But that’s not to say there aren’t some real gems out there!
My wife was reading something online and found something called “Weird Detective“. I had not heard of it, which is odd because I get Lovecraft news from an Apple app called Flipboard. One weekend during this accursed lock down, we went for a drive and ended up walking around a town that had a comic shop. I went in (yes, wearing a mask and gloves) but because I’m a germaphobe even on a good day, I walked with my hands in pockets looking at every shelf but touching nothing. On the very last shelf in the store, I saw it. I realized if I touched it, that was it; I’d be too paranoid to put it back so I just grabbed it, bought it, and left.
Weird detective fiction is a genre, but usually it’s found in novels. Suffice to say, I am now aching for more graphic novels in this genre. This particular one, the genre is also the title. Weird Detective: The Stars are Wrong follows Sebastian Greene, a very odd fellow, who looks suspiciously like H. P. Lovecraft. He has a number of odd abilities like phasing through solid matter or regrowing limbs, but the most enjoyable is that he telepathically communicates with his cat. The cat, as all cats, could not care less, but it does add a sense of humor to the story, especially when Greene’s reluctant partner, Sana Fayez, is staking him out and observes him starring at his cat for hours. His oddities are explained away by everyone in the book with two simple words: “He’s Canadian”. This eventually becomes very funny in what is an otherwise dark story. Fayez is a down-to-earth detective who had fallen foul with the police department for starting an investigation into her corrupt superiors some time in the past. She’s not well liked. Their partnership is awkward for Greene. He is investigating something and doesn’t need anyone looking over his shoulder.
The story centers around a weird case (go figure!): a body has been found devoid of bones, but no other damage. The “juice box killer” is named for the way he leaves the desiccated remains of his victims: like a juice box with after the insides have been sucked out. Greene and Fayez are sent to investigate and solve the case. When Fayez gets in over her head, Greene decides he should save her.
One of the first things I noticed that I have never noticed in a graphic novel before is that it says “script by Fred Van Lente”. It’s not the name that threw me, and it’s not to say that other graphic novels don’t call it a script, but that this is the first time I noticed it. It’s significant because it reads like a movie script. I think if you wanted to turn this into a movie, it would be very easy to do that. That makes reading it a very smooth affair. It flows well and is surprisingly cinematic.
As a fan of the creations of Lovecraft (an important distinction to being a fan of the man himself, of which I am not), it’s fun catching all the little connections. Randolf Carter, The Great Race of Yith, polyps, and shoggoths are all a part of the story. So are the tentacled monstrosities I find so fascinating. The story takes detective fiction and merges it sublimely with the Cthulhu mythos in ways I’ve seen only in such great books as Shadow over Baker Street; a collection of short stories pitting the Great Detective against the Great Old Ones. Finding something similar in graphic novel format is a treat! Dare I call it, “Great”?
Taking place in NYC, I felt very at home with the setting. The artwork may not be groundbreaking but it is far superior to many graphic novels I’ve seen. Guiu Vilanova does a great job depicting the harsh reality of the streets with the underlying sense of menace, and the murders are alarming to look at. Many scenes do pop to life like a stunningly attractive fireworks display and often the use of shadow is creepy and eye catching in all the best ways. There is a bit of language in the story, making it ill-advised for young readers, but I suspect young readers are looking for Superman, not Sebastian Greene.
What did depress me was that I discovered this is a 2017 release. That was the biggest kick in the tentacles that this Cthulhu fan could have imagined. What it said to me is that there wasn’t any plan to do another chapter in this story anytime soon, and that’s a great shame. I really want more weird detective fiction in graphic novel format. I’ve been looking but it’s very hard to find. (I know exactly what you’re thinking: “don’t say it… just don’t” Sorry…) I might need to hire a weird detective to help me find more like this. Wouldn’t that be Great? ML