Page 45 Review by Jonathan
What a wonderfully evocative opening two pages, as we pan in from the depths of frigid outer space very gradually down to the surface of Earth at night, reminding us, lest we forget, how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things, before finally reaching an empty cell in a sanatorium. The perfect beginning for a Cthulu story, though at the risk of mixing my authors for a moment I could almost hear Richard Burton intoning slowly and surely they drew their plans against us from H.G. Wells War Of The Worlds whilst Jeff Wayne begins to play in the background. Anyway, it sets the atmosphere straight to spooky levels instantaneously, which is my point!
What follows is the finest H.P. Lovecraft adaptation in comics to date bar none, as a most curious case of nocturnal nefariousness and ghoulish experimentation is uncovered by the family physician to the Ward family, Dr. Willett. Asked to investigate by Charles father, growing increasingly concerned about his son Charles mental state and obsession with an ancestor named Joseph Curwen (who apparently practiced alchemy of a most unwholesome kind some two hundred years previously), what Dr. Willard begins to uncover scarcely seems believable, with suggestions of reincarnation or reanimation of ancient cadavers by a cabal of individuals of greatly extended lifespans seeking arcane knowledge of mysterious rituals. Yet, the further Dr. Willett progresses in his search for answers, the more likely it seems that such a cabal is still active today, and that Charles is slowly being drawn into their midst, for reasons yet unknown.
Ian Culbard has done a truly sterling job adapting this work, essentially a detective story, which is in complete contrast to the innate boys own adventure flavour of his previous Lovecraft adaption AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS (which I also loved), and again, his unique art style is perfect for a creeping tale of eldritch horror. Its entirely credible art, yet sufficiently dissembled from a realist approach that we are little by little unnervingly tugged towards the inevitably unpleasant conclusion (good old H.P. just did NOT do happy endings) as the emotional intensity of the story is gradually ratcheted up to, then well beyond, breaking point.
The whole point about Lovecrafts monsters (and indeed his approach to horror) was that they were amorphous, indescribably alien, completely incomprehensible to the human eye and mind, so when they do finally make an appearance how on earth do you actually draw them?! Well, no spoilers but suffice to say, were you ever to see in real life what Ian has drawn, I think your sanity would go in an instant. I know mine would! And once you have finished reading and are left to make your own conclusions about the... resolution... of Charles Dexter Wards curious case, Ian then pulls the masterstroke of reversing his initial opening page, panning back out to show the Earth as a tiny, helpless marble in the vast stygian depths of dark, very dark, space, in case wed momentarily forgotten the Elder ones are still out there watching us, just biding their time...