Dynamite’s Reanimator trade paperback exemplifies the peculiar challenge to those who attempt to adapt the writings of HP Lovecraft into other media and for modern audiences. He’s the godfather of “Weird Fiction”, a pulp writer whose singular and disturbing visions of elder gods from beyond space and time and the hapless humans who learn of them have influenced countless horror, science fiction and fantasy creators in the nearly 100 years since he was originally published. He’s also one of the most savagely and appallingly racist writers of all time (which explains perhaps why he’s never fully crossed over into the mainstream). Of all his hugely inventive and influential works, it’s kind of odd that the one that has yielded the most successful adaptation has been a story that is considered among his most minor, a work Lovecraft himself derided and wrote almost entirely for the cash. But this collection of Dynamite’s recent miniseries proves that the tale of the obsessive, brilliant and deranged Herbert West can still captivate.
“Herbert West, Reanimator” is nowhere near Lovecraft’s best story, but it is one of his most basic and relatable. It uses some of the hallmarks of Lovecraft’s writings (Miskatonic University, shambling inhuman monstrosities) while eschewing the Cthulu Mythos of ancient god-monsters utterly incompatible with humanity. It’s the tale of a young doctor who becomes obsessed with conquering death and devises a way to reanimate the dead into a grotesque semblance of life, hence the term “Reanimator.” The short story undoubtedly would have remained little more than Lovecraft’s attempt at a Frankenstein pastiche if not for filmmaker Stuart Gordon, who in the 1980s adapted the story into an insane, gory, blackly hilarious film that became a cult classic. The movie ensured that Herbert West’s entry into the pantheon of great mad scientists, and prove to be the gateway for many into Lovecraft.
Dynamite began using Herbert West and the Reanimator storyline as part of their “Army of Darkness” comic. Yes, “Evil Dead” and its sequels draw heavily, as a lot of horror does, from Lovecraft’s writings. This miniseries stars West on his own, and follows him as he continues his experiments to perfect his restorative formula. Needing someone to assist him, and perhaps ease his loneliness, West enlists the aid of pharmacologist Susan Greene in his experiments. As Susan is drawn deeper into the bizarre world of West, they come embroiled in the New Orleans drug trade, Voodoo, and betrayal.
The story written by Keith Davidsen is a compelling and disturbing one, with the budding and uneasy relationship between Susan and West forming the most interesting part. West is, as many mad scientists are despite our familiarity with them, a fascinating character. While his lack of ethics and his sociopathy makes him dangerous, ruthless and creepy, there is something compelling about his aim to try and conquer death. West sees his work as the ultimate boon to humankind, and if you honestly believe that, then the customary societal boundaries would start to seem trivial. Susan’s growing bond with West is handled well, and even if her ease at accepting his methods occasionally strains credulity, it’s a slight strain, and overall you can see why she would be drawn to him. Davidsen also effectively weaves in the vast mythology of Lovecraft’s larger body of work by incorporating the author’s elder gods and supernatural elements as a part of the story. In the end, this book is about a seduction, though not a literal one, but a seduction nonetheless. Davidsen effectively keeps the focus on West and Susan, keeps the story personal, while constructing the plot around a crime meets horror narrative that provides the shocks and action to keep things humming along.
The art by Randy Valiente, with colors by Jorge Sutil, compliments the story perfectly. There’s an earthy indie comic vibe to the work that doesn’t eschew the horrific and gory elements of the story, even as Valiente chooses angles and layouts that emphasize atmosphere. There are some times when the detail drop out of the backgrounds here and there, but overall the book looks great, with the visuals providing much of the thrills and chills a series like this lives on.
The trade comes with a wealth of material, from sketches and cover galleries to a fantastic piece by Davidsen noting all the Lovecraft references and providing a writer’s commentary. The book opens with a lengthy text piece detailing all of West’s history in Dynamite comics prior to this series that is frankly a slog to get through and isn’t really terribly necessary, though it does clear up a few minor plot points in the series itself. However, with most trade collections being merely reprints of the issues as they originally appeared, the Reanimator trade paperback stands well above the pack in bang for your buck. You get a ton of interesting info, pin-ups, covers, etc. You can in no way be dissatisfied with what the give you between the covers above and beyond a solid story.
In the final analysis, the Reanimator trade paperback will be a worthy addition to the bookshelf of any fan of Lovecraft, Reanimator, of horror comics in general. 8/10.
The Reanimator trade paperback will be released on Sept. 7, 2016.