On the one hand, this is an extremely easy book to review — and on the other, it’s an extremely difficult one.
Chances are, you see, that most readers going into Spanish comics master Esteban Maroto’s IDW-published hardback Lovecraft : The Myth Of Cthulhu are going to be well familiar with the three H.P. Lovecraft adaptations collected herein — “The Nameless City,” “The Festival,” and “The Call Of Cthulhu” are, after all, the first three entries in the legendary “Cthulhu Cycle,” and have been translated into the comics medium a good number of times already (despite the rather curious claim made in Jose Villarrubia’s otherwise-fine introduction to this volume that Lovecraftian works are rarely adapted for comics) — and therefore what’s of primary interest here is not so much what’s being presented as how it’s being presented. The usual plot recaps and the like that accompany most self-respecting reviews are, therefore, probably not strictly necessary in this case (forgive me, then, if we duly skip them over), but some type of analysis of how successfully this material “makes the jump” from the world of the purely literary into the world of graphic storytelling under Maroto’s direction is absolutely necessary if we’re to determine whether or not this book is worth 20 of your hard-earned dollars. So let’s get right to that, shall we?
Certainly the path these stories have taken to finally seeing print has been a circuitous one — Maroto is no stranger to most American comics readers, having enjoyed a healthy run on Marvel’s Red Sonja in the 1970s (for the record, the chain-mail bikini was his idea) and his name being a regular fixture in various Warren black-and-white horror magazines around the same period, but these strips were originally commissioned in the early ’80s for a publication in his home country that folded up shop before they could see print. The rights to them, as well as the original artwork, then fell into the possession of another Spanish publisher, who gave them decidedly short shrift by running them as backup features in a non-horror series, and then they sort of disappeared down the memory hole until they were essentially re-written by Roy Thomas (I’m sorry, but that’s just cruel) for inclusion in a little-seen small press Lovecraft-themed TPB anthology collection earlier this century.
The good news is that in the years since, the artwork has all been returned to Maroto’s possession one way or another, and as such, the reproduction quality of this volume is simply outstanding, with all the pages looking as sharp, clean, and striking as one would expect given that they are taken directly from the originals. IDW has long excelled at the presentation of archival-quality vintage material (okay, fair enough, apart from their Craig Yoe-edited projects), and this book fits well within that tradition, presenting hard-to-find material essentially thought lost to the ages in a manner that makes it look, for all intents and purposes, brand new.
And, of course, for many readers — myself included — these adaptations, if not the stories themselves, are brand new, as no one outside of Spain has ever seen them presented as Maroto originally intended, with “his own” (by way of Lovecraft, of course) words accompanying his masterful illustrations. And that’s where the heavy dichotomy sets in : Maroto’s black-and-white art is lush, detailed to the point of obsessive, and intensely atmospheric, with fear and terror literally dripping from every panel. His expressive faces, rich use of shading and tone, and thick, inky blacks combine and coalesce to form imagery that straight-up oozes dread, and his imagination is more than up to the task of depicting otherworldly malevolent forces that Lovecraft himself, let’s not forget, was always quick to remind readers were well beyond the ability of the human mind to fully comprehend or accurately describe. I’m not prepared to say that Maroto’s iteration of Cthulhu, for instance, is the “definitive” one, since there’s no such thing, but if there were —
Unfortunately, the scripting leaves a whole hell of a lot to be desired, the stories coming across as a series of rather dry “Cliffs Notes”-style condensed re-tellings of their (I hate this fucking term, but) “source material,” heavy on entirely unnecessary description, so if you’re of the mind that both story and art better be pretty good in order for a book to be worth your time and money (in no way an unreasonable position to take), then I’ll tell you right now to avoid this one as you’ll just be disappointed. If, however, you’re prepared to let yourself get swept up by (or maybe that should be subsumed under?) wonderfully, nightmarishly grotesque (in the truest sense of the word) visuals and to let them do all the storytelling work, then Lovecraft : The Myth Of Cthulhu isn’t just a damn good collection of horror comics, it’s probably an essential one.