Adapting or lifting concepts from HP Lovecraft, as we see in Weird Detective #1, is a tricky thing. He’s one of my favorite writers, but I genuinely get nervous whenever I hear about someone using aspects of his mythos to create a story. The main reason is that a huge part of Lovecraft’s writing is the idea that humanity, in a cosmic context, is a less than insignificant speck, and confronting our true place in it yields only madness, death or bleak existential horror. That works well in a short story or novella, where atmosphere and evocative mood can carry you through. But if you’re trying to tell a story with an actual structured plot revolving around proactive characters trying to accomplish something, it’s get trickier. Luckily, writer Fred Van Lente and artist Guiu Vilanova have crafted a fantastically spooky and blackly comedic opener to their five issue mini that dodges the customary pitfalls and produces something hugely enjoyable.
The issue opens as NYPD Detective Sebastian Greene investigates a bizarre crime, one almost as odd as Greene himself. His new partner, Sana Fayez is intrigued by how odd Greene is, his strange behaviour dismissed by her fellow officers by the fact that Greene is from Canada (in a really funny running joke). But Greene is from a lot further away than that, and the odd cases he and Fayez investigate may be part of the secret mission Greene has taken on, one that may result in the destruction of, or salvation of, our planet by forces beyond comprehension.
The idea of merging a crime story and Lovecraftian horror is nothing new, that’s for sure. The existential dread of sifting through the criminal underbelly meshes well with the horrors faced by uncovering the true nature of a universe threatened by ancient mindless malevolent beasts such as Cthulu and Shoggoth. Van Lente clearly knows his source material, drawing inspiration from not just the most famous Lovecraftian icons, but also from some pretty unconventional aspects of the author’s oeuvre. And Van Lente subtly comments on the inherent and distasteful racism and bigotry in Lovecrafts’ work by deliberately creating a foil in Fayez who embodies all the things Lovecraft found so repellant, and then making her a protagonist.
There is plenty of spooky and unsettling atmosphere, combined with bizarre technology/magic, to satisfy any fan of weird fiction, but Van Lente and Vilanova haven’t forgotten to bring a sense of fun and humor to the proceedings that enlivens the issue beyond what you typically see in a less accomplished pastiche.
Speaking of Vilanova, the art of the issue is perfect. There’s a skill at using mood and adept hand at accurately depicting elements from the source material. A double page spread of the elder ones looks like it stepped right out of Lovecraft’s fevered descriptions, and even Greene himself is a dead ringer for the author. But Vilanova also shows skill as the noir style, not just the supernatural aspects, and his skill at creating singular, expressive faces helps to define each character sharply as an individual, even the non-humans ones.
Weird Detective #1 is a sharp debut that successfully embodies both halves of its title, with the weirdness being fun, unsettling and intriguing while the Detective aspect draws enough noir mood to ground the story’s stranger elements. If this issue is anything to go by, the rest of “Weird Detective” will take us on a dark and exciting ride, and that’s why I give it a 9/10.