I am very impressed and not just because Fall of Cthulu is engrossing, but because it’s a damned good horror story. Now, what makes a good horror story? For me, it’s when more is left to the imagination than shown, when both the promise of Hell and Hell itself is at your door, when the abstract of a nightmare becomes concrete, and when I can’t get the ideas and images out of my head. Fear isn’t in how many gallons of blood are spilled, nor how many times something makes you jump, but in how deep the impression of something beyond what we understand is imprinted in our minds. Clive Barker is good at this. Fall of Cthulu hits notes in all of these areas.
This is a six-volume story and gets off to a hell of a start. The illustrators in the first volume by Jeanne-Jacques Dzialowski (Detective Comics, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight) and Andrew Ritchie (Mystery Society, Necronomican) and Colorists: Imaginary Friends Studio and Andrew Ritchie lay the ground work. Together, it’s like watching a nightmare unfold: details in the faces are missing; line work is thick and harsh; the shadows aren’t smooth but are jagged – reality has been twisted. Their version of The Harlot, a reoccurring character throughout the series: 12-feet tall, missing teeth that create an unnerving grin, hair a black beehive of a mess, who crawled out of a Marylin Manson video or a Hellraiser movie, is probably the most terrifying depiction. They choose to rarely show her eyes, which is unfortunate for the readers, because that makes it all the more terrifying. Who she is and what she does specifically are things of the worst sort of acid trips, left to you readers to find out.
From there, each artist has their moment of creating images that will forever be written on my cortex. Other artists that do a bang-up job are Todd Herman (Hack/Slash: Trailers), Mateus Santolouco (TMNT, The Secret History of the Clan) and Mark Dos Santos (Air Space, Imperial). But, even with this incredible art and even when the art doesn’t always completely impress, it’s the ideas presented within that are more than enough. Madness, and all the creative ways in which people are driven mad. Leaving you with the feeling that something that can’t be seen is watching you read from nearby or with that reaction to a final panel of a chapter in which you say out loud, “Nope,” but sit down again anyway.
My only reservation is in the climactic chapter, when like with many stories, the chase becomes more important than the atmosphere of the story. I was on the edge of believing that humans could have any part of this. The villains are so powerful, the world we understand so diminished that the threads of willful suspension of disbelief start to stretch, thankfully no one walks away unharmed or unaffected – because no one ever should in a horror story! What really makes up for any eye-raising, superhero moments (thankfully many times tempered with an edge of humor) is a sort of Epilogue that explores a final chapter with a button that in this day of internet lore made me laugh.
Truly, Michael Alan Nelson should be proud of writing anything that would frighten me in any way, for as much as I love being scared, so little does it for me these days. This book is well worth it for any horror fan, and maybe beyond, looking for a creepy, mystery entrenched tale of gods, monsters from the deep, dreamlands, madness, and chaos.