As much as it fears me to admit this in a geek milieu, I must say I’m not a huge H.P. Lovecraft fan. I will say this about Lovecraft: he seems tailor-made for comics. Inexplicably, I’ve enjoyed every reference made in his name and every sequential adaptation I’ve read. Maybe it’s because stripped of his purple prose, we can see how great his ideas and visuals really were. Comics and Lovecraft are two tastes that just seem to go well together like chocolate and cheese (at least the cover to CHOCOLATE AND CHEESE) or Billy Squier and Run DMC. Mike Dubisch’s hauntingly moody graphic novel WEIRDLING is further proof of the affinity between Lovecraft and comics. This clever (albeit somewhat convoluted) piece of sci-fi sleight-of-hand will leave you scratching your head at times, but the sheer propulsion of Dubisch’s oddball sensibilities push forward the narrative in such a way, you’re enjoying the ride too much to worry about it. I suppose one can say it’s LOST HIGHWAY convoluted, not SPIDERMAN 3 convoluted. There were times when I was confused, but I was having way too much fun to give a damn.
WEIRDLING is the story of Anna Mandretta, a medical technician on the Dreadnought XII, an interplanetary vessel currently assigned to battle against a dreaded alien menace known as the Xax. WEIRDLING is also the story of Anna Mandretta, a respected turn-of-the-century surgeon at the world famous Miskatonic University. Space Medic Anna thinks Miskatonic Anna is a creation of her “Lucidream Emitter,” a device that regulates your sleep patterns to insulate against the nightmarish horrors of intergalactic war. Miskatonic Anna feels Space Medic Anna is a construct of another dimension, which can only be accessed through use of the “Neural Cryptometer,” a device that…Well, stimulates the pineal lobe and causes inter-dimensional travel (DUH!).
This balancing act between past and distant future is, for the most part, handled masterfully by Dubisch. Is there a rip in the fabric of the cosmos or is this all a hallucination? What is the Matrix…dotwarnerbrosdotcom? Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
The story shifts from past to future and back again until you’re not sure which is the true reality and which one is the virtual. In Victorian New England, Anna is called upon to perform life-saving surgery on a child purportedly possessed by the Old God, Azag-Thoth. Her failure to do so causes a chain of events seemingly leading toward doom. Travelling in the ocean of a hostile alien planet, Anna is suffering a series of delusions seemingly caused by her addiction to Virtual Reality and futuristic version of what lame-ass conservative types would refer to as “marijuana cigarettes.” Upon meeting a crazed intelligence officer, her life is turned upside down and she heads toward impending doom. These two storylines go back and forth until reaching their emotionally wrenching conclusions. The intersection between Lovecraftian horror and the claustrophobic Ridley Scott-influenced space suspense is jarring at first, but once you’re entranced by the rhythm of these mood swings, they feel as naturally seamless as that long ass medley at the end of ABBEY ROAD. This guy’s one Hell of a storyteller.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the art, because, you know…Comics. The art is old-school Vertigo, kind of a Syd Mead meets SANDMAN-era Sam Keith. The tentacle-faced Azag-Thoth, the hideous invertebrate Xax , zombie goats, babies with living tumors on their heads—Dubisch renders each horrifically bizarre image with the graceful flourish of a scalpel-wielding surgeon, a surgeon that happens to disembowel whores and winos in the dark hours of the night. He also understands the purpose of splash pages, as each splash is a visually stunning punch in the stomach. I honestly haven’t seen splashes used this effectively since THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Each page has at least one image that absolutely blows you away. I don’t know where this guy’s been hiding, but I’m glad I had the chance to find him.
I’m not big on sci-fi comics, the way most people aren’t big on manga. I find most of them to be derivative of one another and they do seem kind of like, in Chuck Klosterman’s words, “philosophy for dumb people.” Combine that with my ambivalence for Lovecraft and you have a recipe for disaster. Dubisch was able to obliterate my defenses the way applesauce wipes away a bad mood with his singular storytelling vision and vicious virtuosity. Like Stuart Gordon and Cliff Burton before him, Mike Dubisch has made Lovecraft not so lame in my eyes.
More importantly, he’s created one Hell of a comic.