As of late I’ve found myself forgoing the lure of Blu-ray and have delved back into a childhood passion, comic books. I don’t have an explanation for the transition aside from fewer and fewer Blu-rays striking me in a “must own” capacity, and I’ve always loved the comic book as a storytelling medium. Especially when it’s in incredibly skilled hands, like Alan Moore.
One of my favorite works of Moore has been his gargantuan From Hell. In it, he weaves an incredible tale of conspiracy and serial murder using the framework of the Jack the Ripper killings in late 1800s London. Historically, it’s largely bullshit, but who am I to want history to get in the way of an incredible narrative? The broad strokes are there, but the layman can easily be tricked into thinking the work is historically accurate, much like Oliver Stone’s seminal film JFK, because of how serious the subject matter is treated. Don’t be fooled, however, by thinking that you can watch the film version of From Hell and still have a similar experience to reading the work…it’s rightly one of the reasons Alan Moore no longer allows his name on film adaptations of his work.
The point I’m making here is that I enjoy Alan Moore’s work in comics especially when he dabbles in horror. I was incredibly excited to learn he’d penned a Lovecraftian horror called The Courtyard and a sequel, Neonomicon. The collected edition of both was one of the first trade paperbacks I decided to grab in my new comics renaissance.
The Courtyard is a solid, two issue horror/suspense tale following a fellow named Aldo Sax, who’s an expert in what he’s dubbed “anomaly theory” so he can piece together similarities in otherwise unrelated gruesome murders. It gets very “Lovecrafty” and weird towards the end, which was expected, and the ending wasn’t really a surprise, but it was a solid lead in to the four issue Neonomicon, regardless.
Neonomicon opens shortly after The Courtyard ends, and introduces us to two FBI agents following up on Sax’s previous case which leads them to a den of cultists who seem to be card carrying Lovecraft worshippers and….
Okay, if you’ve lived under a rock like I have, here’s where the book becomes really divisive for people and I’m going to spoil the hell out of it…giant fist man rapes a woman. For pages and pages and pages. Now, I’m going to go on record here saying that my reaction upon first reading that scene was hardcore unease. I’ve also got to say the reveal was presented brilliantly.
Agent Brears, the female FBI agent, had to remove her contact lenses in an earlier panel, rendering her almost totally blind, while all hell breaks loose around her. Her partner and only protection is shot and killed immediately after, and the cultists literally take advantage of her with a gun to her head until the fish man shows up. The panels switch between clear focus shots of what’s happening around Brears and her blurry eyed perception of it. Having terrible eyesight myself, losing my contacts and being trapped in unfamiliar surroundings is a fear that terrifies me, let alone the possibility of being violated and unable to see.
Now, speaking as a male, I didn’t find the scene titillating or exciting. Artist Jacen Burrows has a style that has an emphasis in realism but wouldn’t feel out of place brought to life via animation, and because of those qualities it adds a certain brutality I don’t think other artists would be able to convey. The pages in question force you to give up the read or continue the narrative while you’re watching a woman get destroyed by a Lovecraftian sex monster.
I’ve read some online commentary that Brear’s treatment here is a euphemism for how women are treated in comics, how the world sees “rape culture” and how Alan Moore is a misogynist and sex pervert for having the scene go on as long as it does. It’s honestly fucked up, and the rest of the story is pretty bonkers, too. But the ending needed the scene, and I think the length of said scene really drives home the hopeless position Brears is in at this point. I am a naive male, however, and admittedly cannot and do not want to speak on behalf of women and how they perceive this work or how they should.
At the end of the day, this was a pure horror story. The horror itself wasn’t where I thought it would initially lie, however, but in another place entirely. Undoubtedly, and for better and for worse, Neonomicon is stuck in my head forever.