Thee Comic Column #87: The Doom That Came To Gotham

image courtesy of dc.wikia.com

Let’s talk about reading habits. Several weeks ago I was firmly entrenched in my weekly floppies, marveling at the usual monthly awesomeness by Remender, Kirkman and some new stuff by Ennis. However, one thing that this column does not reflect, for obvious reasons, is that I do not only read comics. Literature is also a love of mine, from F. Scott Fitzgerald, to Bret Easton Ellis, David Foster Wallace, Donna Tartt – the list goes on and on. In short if we were to talk about my reading habits they are, in a word, habitual.

So while plowing through floppies I’m always reading fiction as well. During the time period touched on above I was about halfway through Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. I’ve read a decent amount of King but not really any of those first handful of books that really set-up his reputation as the horror writer of our era. My good friend Missi sought to remedy that and sent me a few of King’s oldies. I spent a week reading Cujo (wow) and then dove immediately into Pet Sematary, the movie of which – while I’m not sure it would hold up today – scared the hell out of me in 1989 when I saw it the in eighth grade. But what the hell does any of this have to do with comics, let alone Mike Mignola, Richard Pace, Troy Nixey and Dennis Janke’s The Doom That Came to Gotham, the Lovecraft-inspired tale that stands as quite possibly the best Elseworlds ever released featuring the Dark Detective?

We’ll get there.

Halfway through Pet Sematary my wife and I spent two days binge-watching Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Fukunaga’s True Detective and – without crossing over into spoiler territory – it sent me on a weird fiction bent which, naturally, has likewise turned into a full-fledged binge on my long-beloved H.P. Lovecraft collection. It’d been a few years since I’d read any Lovecraft and it was good to get back on that particular horse, especially now that I’ve found Chad Fifer and Chris Lackey‘s H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast, wherein every HPL story is broken down and commented on/analyzed, often in regards to the man’s entire mythos. And what a mythos it is, sprawling well past Lovecraft’s death in 1937, gaining momentum and cultural currency until it permeates – in one way or another – a whole hell of a lot of pop culture today. Lovecraft always encouraged his friends and colleagues to ‘play with his toys’ and write their own iterations/interpretations of his mythos and because of this that sentiment has passed through a legion of writers and artists over the years. The Evil Dead films, the works of Alan Moore, Ramsey Campbell and even Mike Mignola, whose Hellboy series spawned two fantastic, big-budget films that very loosely incorporate many Lovecraftian elements, much as the comic does. And as I noted above, Mr. Mignola is one of the people responsible for the magnificent Elseworlds tale The Doom That Came to Gotham, a perfect synthesis of all things Batman and many things Lovecraft.

The Doom That Came to Gotham, while not an adaptation of the similarly named Lovecraft story The Doom That Came to Sarnath – a tale from early in the writer’s career that has little to do with the famous Cthulhu mythos which would come later on – is a superbly thought out and masterfully plotted mash-up of these two Universes. This is not a forced alignment. No. In fact, I find it almost eerie just how well Mignola and Price find analogues between Lovecraft’s world and the one occupied by Batman. Many of the characters from Batman’s history are here and all serve an integral and what’s more important natural role in re-telling Gotham’s tale within the context of a very Lovecraftian framework. And it should be noted that the artwork by Troy Nixey and Dennis Janke is a large part of how this framework integrates so well with these characters. The setting is not modern, instead the story moves Batman back to Lovecraft’s own era (late 20’s) and we Mr. Nixey and Mr. Janke give us a mood that is partly what we know and love about these characters and partly what is specific to this very industrial time period. There’s a quasi Steampunk element and this helps play the horror element very seriously. There’s no schlock here. Instead, we have a very rich visual world and a very dark tone that helps move the story beneath the readers’ skin and into their most obtuse, ineffable nightmares. And I think Mr. Lovecraft would have greatly appreciated that. Why?

image courtesy of dc.wikia.com

Because Lovecraft was a master of cosmic horror and it’s this key facet, the idea that there is a great, slavering thing just beyond the threshold of our world, waiting to cross over into our dimension and re-take it from humanity that Mignola and Pace use here to turn Bruce Wayne and his three wards Tim, Jason and Dick into key players in an ageless cosmic drama. And the greatness of this tale stems from the fact that it’s not just Batman’s story that is subjugated to Lovecraft’s, but vice versa as well. Part of what I find so masterful about The Doom That Came to Gotham is the fact that the writers draw on Peter Milligan’s Dark Knight, Dark City storyline and streamline Lovecraft’s ideas through that bit of preexisting Bat-mythology, so that the Satanic heredity of both Wayne and Gotham’s past set down in Milligan’s story ties it into a much larger, more horrific framework than just a Judeo-Christian paradigm. Instead, the devils Thomas Wayne and his accomplices enter into a pact with in order to achieve their ambitions for both themselves and their city are emissaries of Ioa-Sotha, a direct analogue here for Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. This in turn defines many notable members of Batman’s rogues gallery. In particular the way in which the characters Killer Croc and Ra’s and Talia Al Ghul are utilized is absolutely fantastic, from both the perspective of a Batman fan and a Lovecraft/Weird Fiction one, and the part prepared for Harvey Dent is, in my opinion, the textbook definition of ‘horrific’ and worthy of the kind of rabidity that many of us HPL fans reserve for characters like Wilbur Whately, Obed Marsh and of course, Herbert West, MD.

It’s not all too often that my love of literature and my love of comics get to cross in so prodigious a way, and make no mistake, The Doom That Came to Gotham sets that bar pretty high. There are indeed other Elseworld tales out there that feature the Dark Knight and most that I’ve read are great. However, none of those others do for me and the character quite what this one does.

……………………..

Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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