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Review: Howard Lovecraft and The Undersea Kingdom – C’thulhu for Kids

Written by: Bruce Brown & Dwight L MacPherson
Art by: Thomas Boatwright
Letters: E.T. Dollman
Cover: Erik Fokkens
Publisher: Arcana

HowardLovecraftUnderseaWhat if Inspector Gadget was written by H.P. Lovecraft? What if Calvin and Hobbes was Howard and C’thulhu? Well you’d get something akin to this book. It’s really kind of pastiche of both. This is a follow-up to 2009′s Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom a 71 page Graphic Novelette containing an all-ages H.P. Lovecraft type story. I’m assuming you all know what kind of story Lovecraft spun back in his day. Tales of elder gods, the horror of space and time, ancient cults, men turning into fish creatures, and mountains of madness. You know, kid stuff. When all is said and done I’m actually surprised how well this reinvention of Lovecraft lore works. It’s the kind of story you can let a pre-teen read and have fun with and not drive him to brink of sanity. More importantly you can read it and enjoy it yourself as it’s not dumbed down with fart jokes or demon slapstick.

“Howard Lovecraft’s family has been imprisoned on a far-flung alien planet, Spot hopelessly captured, and he is slowly becoming a mindless Fishman. Accompanied by his insane father, a pistol-packing constable, and his hungry cat, they must face the all-powerful ruler of the Outer Gods, a revengeful old enemy, an army of deadly monsters, and a lethal world called Yuggoth, to save the day. All Howard has to do is surrender his father’s Book. But that would mean certain doom for all of mankind!” – synopsis via Comixology.
Story-wise this plot is a bit slippery. Brown and MacPherson kind of throw you off in the deep end and see if you can make heads or tails of the mystery un-folding. I didn’t read the first book in the series, so perhaps that would have helped me with the set-up. I have to admit I floundered for a bit and didn’t really grasp what was happening until the end of Chapter 2 where Howard flat-out spells it out: “King Abdul took our family and House to his Undersea Kingdom and won’t let them go until I give him the book.” The cutting between different worlds threw me for a bit at first as well. I didn’t understand if C’thulhu’s (aka Spot) world was imaginary or a world inside the book Howard was reading or what. The power and importance of the book is never really explained. I’m assuming it’s the Necromonicon and it’s very powerful, but as a new reader to the series it was left open-ended. The stakes would be higher if it was explained how the world would shatter if the ruler of the Outer Gods got ahold of this thing.
That aside I really did enjoy the characters and their interactions while all this plot was unraveling. Once the story draws you in its easy to lose yourself in this world. Spot is an awesome sidekick for Howard, and is able to send an astral projection to Howard’s world when he sleeps like from the Lovecraft line “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”He fends off all kinds of Shoggoth’s and horrors along the way. The constable is a lovable ol’ cook as well. Kind of like Tackleberry from Police Academy but with a sense of humor and a cat. He kills all kinds of nasty demons along the way and really flexes the whole gung-ho protector trope. Which is probably a good thing since Howard himself is a bit of a scaredy cat and needs all the help he can get. I usually get annoyed with leads like this, but the writers were sensible enough to make him a balanced character. Yes, he is quick to panic and freak out, but deep down the kid has some guts and chutzpah and pulls it together when it really counts. And I didn’t find myself wishing for his death, so that’s a good thing. He’s enough of a spitfire that you want to see him succeed. The dad is a dangerous nutter and you can see why he was put in a sanitarium. He makes the journey edgy and you can never really trust him. I like that it really flips the typical family dynamic on its head. You definitely cannot trust the parents in this and that is something younger kids will easily relate to. I know I did.
Calvin and Hobbes, Ed, Edd n Eddy, Bloom County, and Fractured Fairytales; this is the kind of cartooning vein that Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom draws from. It’s a loose but confident brush style that looks like it could be in syndication at national newspaper. The watercolor background are kind mushy and vague. Sponges and brush sprays help work up the texture, giving the panels a bit of depth. When it works best, there’s lots of trees and mist conjuring a dark vibe suitable for elder gods. Sometimes it all gets a bit too soft and muddy for my tastes, but overall it’s not distracting and fits the tone of the narrative. It’s an odd color palette with lot’s subtle purples used for flesh shadows, bright neon-green glowing eyes and cyan knock-outs for the spectral astral projections of Spot. I especially love how the Shoggoths are rendered as black amorphous columns of tentacles with bright red membranes cracking through. Royal blue speckles pepper the appendages and represent the leathery texture of skin and the odd suction cup. These bold stylizations are a nice touch and look really fresh and modern. It’s a welcome counter balance to Boatwright’s whimsical drawing style. Overall the lighthearted art feels right for this book and does the Lovecraft Mythos justice.

Kids are going to love this book because it’s about one of them, and there’s all sort of cool monsters and trouble going on. The adult reading this to them will get a kick out of all the eldritch Lovecraftian references (like when one Howard starts growing gills and fins ala’ one of the “Deep Ones” from The Shadow Over Innsmouth). When my nephew gets a bit older you can be sure I’m going to read this to him. The best part is I won’t have to feel guilty about him being too scared to sleep, because while it’s chock full of Lovecraftian trimmings, ultimately it’s light on the horror and heavy on adventure. That’s exactly what this sort of thing should be. I predict this doing really well. In fact, I can totally see this being pitched to Nickelodeon or the Cartoon Network for a series. Howard Lovecraft and The Undersea Kingdom is currently available on Comixology, and will hit the comic shops, Amazon and bookstores on March 21st 2012.

Story: 7/10
Art: 7/10

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