Comic Review – At The Mountains Of Madness

Synopsis

A tale of terror unlike any other: The barren, windswept interior of the Antarctic plateau was lifeless, or so the expedition from Miskatonic University thought. Then they found strange fossils of unheard-of creatures, carved stones tens of millions of years old and, finally, the unspeakable, mind-twisting terror of the City of the Old Ones.

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. – The Call of Cthulhu by H.P Lovecraft

‘At Mountains of Madness’ echoes the above quote, from one of Lovecraft’s other works, on every page and by doing so allows the reader to come to a simple conclusion. There are some truths the world is not ready to know and that, even at the  forefront of science, ignorance is still sometimes bliss.

Being into anything remotely pulp I’ve always been aware of H.P Lovecraft and his work but have never read any of his stories. The closest I’ve ever come to his world is picking up a source book for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game for some inspiration into a story I was writing at the time. This stood me in good stead when reading this graphic novel adaptation as a lot of the references and names (yes Necronomicon and Arab Abdul Alhazred I’m looking at you) I had heard before. Although I should make it clear that someone with no knowledge can pick up this graphic novel.

I’ve always loved the themes surrounding Lovecraft’s work and when I heard that one of his novels was being adapted by I.N.J Culbard I jumped at the chance for a review copy and I’m glad to say I was not disappointed.

For those who don’t know artist/writer I.N.J Culbard most of his recent work has been alongside Ian Edgington on the Sherlock Holmes adaptations, which I recommend people check out as they are brilliant.

Culbard is flying solo in this adaptation with only the works of Lovecraft to guide him. The story of an expedition stumbling on something unexpected and  beyond their comprehension has been a theme that has been revisited again and again in both literature and on the small  and big screen. It’s a timeless plot device that when used well can really ramp up the tension and scares.   At the Mountains of Madness takes the time to build up the suspense and from the first page there is an underlying current of unease which builds as the story unfolds until the big reveal is made and a choice must be made with huge ramifications for the world at large.

Of course this is a graphic novel so we should talk a little about the art. If you’re fan of Culbard’s art then you’re in for a real treat. This is, in my opinion, his best work to date. Perhaps it’s because the Holmes stuff is essentially set in one major location,I don’t know, but here Culbard is allowed to indulge his fantasies of vast mountainous regions encased in snow and ice where no human has dared to venture until now. The sense of scale in some of the wide shots in the book are epic. The characters that inhabit the tale are well drawn especially the central figure of William Dyer whose range of emotions throughout the book of fear,frustration, excitement, horror and in the end a degree of empathy  are played out on the page for all to see. Again I’ll say that this is the best art I’ve seen from Culbard. There’s a two page spread a little over halfway into  the book involving an airplane which is just a breathtaking tribute to all things pulp and this age of artic discovery and wonder. It’s clear when you see art like this that Culbard has a love for the source material matched by a fierce desire to do his chosen adaptation justice.

If you’ve never read a Lovecraft book or like me have dipped your toe in the water and found them a little confusing then this would be a great place to start. Personally I don’t think you need to be aware of Lovecraft to pick up and enjoy At the Mountains of Madness. I do think that when you’ve finished reading it for the first time you may be overcome with the desire to head for Wikipedia or a lovecraft inspired website or two for some more info.

I did find some of the concepts and ideas in the latter half of the book a little hard to take in but to be honest this was one of the reasons I’ve always struggled whenever I’ve tried to read Lovecraft in the past. To Culbard’s credit having the accompanying images during these explanations make it a little easier for me to digest the concepts. On saying that there were a few pages I had to read more than once.

One of the goals of any adpatation should be to make the orginal work and ideas accessible to a new audience and as someone who would be considered a member of that new audience this adaptation has done it’s work as I’m definately more invested in finding out more about Lovecraft’s other stories. I also hope it’s not long before Culbard returns to Lovecraft’s world of cosmic horror.

At the Mountains of Madness is Scott of the Antarctic meets The Thing by way of Lost Horizon. So if you have a love of horror with a little pulp adventure set in an age of discovery and wonder that has long gone then I would give this graphic novel a try.

GS Reviewer: Nuge

Source: Self Made Hero

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3 comments

  1. Dion /

    I’m there! I’ve loved all the Cthulhu stuff I’ve read so far am I’m gagging for the Del Toro film adaptation of this story. This’ll be a good stopgap for me until then (and Xmas is just round the corner).

  2. Ok, so it’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally read this adaptation – I bought a copy at Thought Bubble this year and the man himself signed it and did a little picture for me in the front cover.

    The book is everything Nuge has said and more. As a fella who’s read quite a lot of Lovecraft’s work I can state that this is a very faithful adaptation of the story in both narrative and style. One of the things that makes him an interesting writer – but also a frustrating one – is that he leaves an awful lot up to the imagination of the reader. This can have a powerful and profound impact on an impressionable mind but can occasionally leave people cold, with an incomplete notion of just what exactly has happened.

    Culbard’s illustrations do a beautiful job of bringing clarity to the tale, gruesomely illuminating little corners of narrative detail and providing us with images we can grasp of the Elder Ones and their Shoggoth slaves – without depriving us of that wonderful sense of mystery and suspense.

    The art style is reminiscent of Tin-Tin without aping it, putting us straight in the mindset of pulp adventure. Cracking stuff.

    I give it 5/5. Go and buy this now, then start pestering him for more 😀

  3. dregj /

    Cannot wait to get this, so disapointed the movie is dead in the water
    Surly a sci fi channel tv movie could work,as long as the actings good we could forgive ropey cgi

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