By Gou Tanabe. Released in Japan by Enterbrain, serialized in the magazine Comic Beam. Released in North America by Dark Horse Comics. Translated by Zack Davisson.
This is the first in a series of Lovecraft adaptations that are still being done in the pages of Enterbrain’s oddball magazine Comic Beam, home of Emma, Thermae Romae, and other hard-to-classify series. The mangaka, Tanabe Gou, has specialized in adapting horror titles to the comics page, and just reading a few pages into this volume will show you that he knows his stuff. This volume collects three of Lovecraft’s more well-known short stories and turns them into fairly gripping horror manga, with plenty of the author’s tortured, overdone prose, but not so much that you want to stop reading (as I frequently do with Lovecraft). Thankfully, the nameless horrors in these particular stories also don’t feature Lovecraft’s awful brand of racism that has led fans to back away from him a bit in modern times. You can enjoy them for what they are: scary stuff with no reasonable explanation.
We begin with “The Temple”, which takes place in WWII – something which may puzzle readers, as the story was written in the 1920s. The ‘about the author’ at the end mentions that Tanabe moved the action up a few decades, and honestly it works even better that way – the original U-Boat Captain was so villainous he may as well have been a Nazi. they find the head of an old Grecian statue on a dead British soldier, and its presence gradually makes the crew of the U-Boat lose its sanity – not helped by the captain shooting “traitors”. Soon he ends up discovering Atlantis underwater, and where that statue really came from. In “The Hound”, two men who enjoy grave robbing for kicks find a jade amulet and take it back to England, where they are soon haunted by the ghastly beast that they may have killed at the gravesite. Finally, in “The Nameless City”, there’s only our narrator, exploring a city in Arabia that no one dares go near, and finding (all together now) eldritch horrors beyond his comprehension.
Honestly, the plot is pretty much irrelevant. What matters most here is mood, and Tanabe nails it, particularly in The Hound, which I found the best of the three stories. The sense of an encroaching doom that will engulf our characters (all male – women rarely if ever appear in a Lovecraft story) grows more and more with every turn of the page, and the few actual shots of violence are striking. Lovecraft stories are about the unseen, the imagined, and the unimaginable. Therefore a lot of adaptations risk becoming silly by showing said unshowable evil and having it not measure up. Tanabe has just the right amount of balance, as The Temple relies on its narrator’s own villainous depths, and The Hound is glimpsed mostly in shadow and corners. The Nameless City does draw a few monsters in detail, but its viewpoint is still firmly on the narrator (and the amazing vistas that he’s passing through).
Lovecraft is not for everyone, and I would not blame people from passing simply based on the name. But if you like horror and want to read something really creepy and offputting, this is an excellent adaptation. He’s done more of these – I think The Colour Out of Space was also adapted – and I hope it does well enough that we see more.