People are being killed in Miskatonic Valley, and it’s up to government agent Miranda Keller and private detective Tom Malone to find out why. To put it lightly, things are not as they seem in Innsmouth.
Miskatonic #1 is an excellent introduction to the series’ characters and setting. Miranda Keller is a particularly fascinating lead, pushing against the proud misogyny of her superiors and co-workers in order to get things done. This no-nonsense attitude carries through the rest of the issue, with Miranda refusing to suffer fools and staring down some truly cosmic evil with a stiff upper lip and a willingness to get into a scrap. Her interactions with Malone and the rest of the characters in the book are the highlights of Mark Sable’s already-clever script.
The artwork from Giorgio Pontrelli is delightful, capturing a very pulpy vibe. Just about every panel looks like it could have been the cover to a magazine where H.P. Lovecraft would have published one of his stories. The quaint and down-to-earth styles of the protagonists contrast perfectly with the more horrific sequences, like Malone’s flashback/dream sequence. The brief usage of silhouettes during the chase scene toward the end of the book is a nice touch, making everything just a bit more dark, dangerous, and frantic.
Pippa Bowland’s colors are used to great effect, as well. The blues and sickly greens lend themselves well to the fishing town setting, but also allow the creepier elements of the story to have a more otherworldly pallor to them.
Thomas Mauer’s lettering is a lot of fun throughout the issue. Not only are the sound effects crunchy and kinetic, but the different letter designs for some of the occult chants are interesting to look at, as well. It definitely sets the more dangerous elements of the story apart from the uptight procedural that Malone and Keller think they’re in, until it’s too late.
This book is also packed to the gills (no pun intended) with references to the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, building an almost Castle Rock-esque universe where “The Horror at Red Hook” happened in the same world as “Shadow Over Innsmouth.” Other references can be found to stories such as “Dagon” and “The Dunwich Horror.”
Given the, er, highly problematic nature of the original author, the creative team makes a brilliant choice to tie the cultist imagery in with some of the racist roots of the American South. It makes for some very uncomfortable and unsettling imagery, while also seemingly acting as commentary on Lovecraft’s worst aspects.
That’s not to say that it all works. There are a few odd pacing issues here and there, as well as some moments that don’t quite pay off. The chase scene that closes the issue feels a bit disjointed in spots, particularly when the characters are arguing about a specific escape plan that they seemingly end up abandoning. Also, while the numerous references to other works are fun to spot, they do occasionally obfuscate any clear cut answers or story progression for the reader. Readers who only have a passing familiarity with Lovecraft’s work and the Cthulhu Mythos may find themselves scratching their heads for large portions of the book.
More than a few of Malone’s quips walk just over the line, as well. This dialogue is clearly meant to satirize Malone’s outdated attitude (which fits pretty well with one of Lovecraft’s most unreadably racist stories), but it gets to be grating at a certain point.
Even so, this first issue is mostly a fun jaunt. There are some surprising action beats, the two lead characters are written exceptionally well (even though one of them is absolutely insufferable), and the artwork is splendid throughout.
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