The covers: There are six covers to obtain in this installment. All covers are by interior artist Jacen Burrows, save the Pantheon cover, which he penciled but is painted by Michael DiPascale. The Regular cover is an image of Salem, where this issue takes place. The sea town looks typical of early east coast America: an assortment of dwellings on the harbor, with a few ships docked. The overcast sky is dominated by gulls. It’s gorgeous, and not too unlike what such a setting looks like today. Beautiful illustration with perfect, dull coloring. The Ancient Tome cover is the same as the Regular, though the image has been aged to a golden yellow and sits inset a leather book’s cover. The title Providence is a brass attachment above the picture to designate what the book is. This looks great. The Dreamscape Wraparound cover is a gruesome affair that shows the aftermath of a classical city that’s been besieged. Its citizens are all dead, arrows protruding from each body, the blood lost covers the ground and renders it invisible in the crimson. Their house are on fire, while a single statue of a giant lizard in the center of the square staring down upon the violence happily. There’s so much going on in this cover it could easily be a print or poster. The Pantheon Cover shows an individual in a vast cave holding a lantern high to illuminate a monstrous being emerging from the subterranean lake. The monster looks fantastic, with the coloring on it perfection. Did someone say, “Dagon”? The Portrait Cover features a character who makes a fleeting appearance in this book. It’s a man looking out of one of the windows typical of Salem. He holds a cane to steady himself as he leers down upon the street. Before him is a box containing several small glass vials, each containing a stone that hangs within. This is very sinister looking, and if one were a Lovecraft fan “The Terrible Old Man” would come to mind. The final cover is the image I chose to use for this review, The Women of HPL cover. This features the character Negathlia-Lou Boggs, who looks as if she’s relocated from Innsmouth. She is disturbing and lovely, in her own way, but one should take a close look at the pictures behind her, they tell a story as well. Overall grades: Regular A, Ancient Tome A, Dreamscape A+, Pantheon A+, Portrait A-, Women of HPL A+.
The story: Robert Black is ringing the bell at the Hillman to alert someone that he’s arrived to take his room. However, in between each hit of the bell a flashback is shown. The first has him encountering friend Charles on the street. The two have a conversation on topical issues: prohibition, vaudeville, and Russia. The second has him on a train making his way to Salem, with a mother telling her young son to wave goodbye to his father as they leave the station. Hearing the bell, the owner of the inn arrives, discovering that Black’s name has been incorrectly written down as Mr. Block. “You talk so quick, you folks from up the shore. She gets out of her depth.” Fans of “Innsmouth” will read deeply into these two sentences, which seem simple but are horrifically ominous. The owner volunteers, “Possbily you’d care to follow me upstairs, if you’ve a mind?” Four pages in and Alan Moore is throwing chum in the waters in this installment. Every word that comes out of this man’s very large mouth seems to have a secondary meaning that Block is unaware of. Soon the erstwhile reporter is on his way to meet Tobit Boggs, the man who copied a book for Robert Suydam. He finds the man easily enough, though he’s interrupted something that had the hair standing on the back of my neck. The two make their way to another location, passing something ominous on the ground, before briefly meeting someone on Page 13 that had me thinking, ‘Black is so in trouble!’ The next location is perverse and worrisome; so much so that it makes Black wholly uncomfortable. What follows is a surprising 6 page sequence that adds an incredible amount of depth to one character, including some frightening foreshadowing. The final panel of the penultimate page had me gasp, and the next two panels were wonderfully tense. This issue is deliriously ominous. Overall grade: A+
The art: This book is amazing. There are no monsters from the unknown wrecking havoc on the world and its citizens, but there are things much more worse because they’re right next to you. The first two pages show Jacen Burrows doing an incredible job with a tremendous amount of people in a crowd; it’s teased on the first page, but — WOW! — look at that full-paged splash on Page 2. It’s stunning. The first appearance of a native is fantastic: the back of his head shows barely any hair, his profile is placed against an object on the wall that had me chuckling sinisterly, and the reveal at the bottom of 2 grotesque. I found myself staring at the man’s neck at the first panel on 3. Pages 4 and 5 feature Black’s journey to Boggs’ Refinery and it features some terrific setting work from a variety of angles, with the arrival at the establishment being super — I love how Black is swallowed by the shadow of the business. The first panel on 8 clearly introduces three characters, with a pair of them not having the most kindly glances. Having characters reveal traits without dialogue is always fantastic to see. Pages 14 and 15 scared the tar out of me; I felt myself mirroring Black’s discomfort the further he went into the location. The top panel on 24 was absolutely frightening. The text is tense, but Burrows’ art magnifies it to ungodly levels. I loved the way this book looked. Overall grade: A+
The colors: Juan Rodriguez’s coloring had me always thinking of the sea. This is not the cool blue of the western isles, but the overcast cold, clammy colors of the east. I swear I could taste the salt in the air with the colors. In the first panel Rodriguez goes fishy with the wallpaper of the inn. The skin on the residents of the town is so green-gray so as to resemble something that’s come up from the harbor. In the daylight, all seems sunny and bright, but once within a residence, where truths can be hidden, the coloring dims to blue-green. The sequence on Pages 17 – 21 have the perfect coloring to alter readers as to what’s occurring, and the choices used put a dark spin on the proceedings. Overall grade: A+
The letters: The work by Kurt Hathaway on this book took me to a new level of appreciation. The book opens with the expected look for dialogue and a bold chapter title, but what happens to one person’s speech on Page 4 had me believing I was looking at printer’s error. It’s not. This is a conscious decision, and the lettering on this character, and others similar to him, had me on the edge of my seat every time I encountered it. It’s not often this can be said of a letterer’s work, but I was more at ease when I didn’t encounter “that” font. It made me uncomfortable. Overall grade: A+
The extras: Eight pages from Black’s journal again accompany this issue. Though these pages one will discover what Black did prior to his train trip and what he felt after encountering the locals in Salem. The highlight are the final five pages which come from a parish newsletter from the Church of St. Jude’s. These are mandatory reading for any Lovecraft fan and those who wish to read something disturbing. There’s nothing graphic, but enough to make one stop and question what they’ve just read. Overall grade: A+
The final line: The tension in this issue is unbearable, yet you’ll feel compelled to continue. If you’re familiar with Lovecraft, you’ll shudder with each page. If you’re unfamiliar with Lovecraft, you’ll find yourself making your way through something that’s obviously wrong, but you can’t put your finger on it. You’ll see more than Black, and you’ll be screaming at his choices. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+