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Monday, April 21, 2008

Codex Arcana -- A Suspended Animation Review From 1999

Published as Dark Horse Presents #142. The book is 24 pages and priced at $2.95 each. Illustrated by various artists and writers. It is sold in comics shops and by mail.

H.P. Lovecraft was arguably the greatest horror writer of the 20th century. Codex Arcana is inarguably not the best comics homage to his prose.

Lovecraft was a master at creating an atmosphere of impending calamity, of a festering, perverse realm just below the skin of reality. His short stories also shun the violence, profanity and deviant sexuality that infect the horror genre today. To their credit, the three stories in Codex Arcana emulate that style and the themes that distinguish Lovecraft.

Obsessed with the occult, a man is sucked into an ancient book of unspeakable horror, a psychic investigator rids a home of a Danish witch, and a machine rips open a portal into another dimension. But all three stories fail in recreating that mood of horror in Lovecraft's work.

No one has ever captured the writer's dark, gothic, dirty ambiance better than comics artists Graham Ingles and Bernie Wrightson. Their accomplishment stands unchallenged. The artwork in Arcana, while competent and not without charm, lacks Lovecraftian decadence and physical degeneration of characters and setting.

The writing also fails to recreate the inexorably slow, swelling suspense of Lovecraft's dense prose as revelation after revelation peels reality like an onion away from surreal nastiness.

Pacing is the weakness that underlies the art and story in Arcana. These vignettes are visual and verbal plot outlines, lacking an emotional impact that demands a slower pace. They are a slap in the face when a horrible, spreading disease consuming every thought is needed.

For great horror, readers must still return to the EC comics of the 1950s.

Review by Michael Vance