| MISKATONIC makes Lovecraft's horror a tame Red Scare |
AfterShock's Misktatonic, by Mark Sable and Giorgio Pontrelli, promises "a revisionist look at classic cosmic horror tropes" combined with "noir crime and real-world politics." The publisher claims,
The first “Red Scare” of the 20th century — when paranoia over the threat posed by far-left political extremists overtook certain elements of the United States — is the backdrop for the latest series to be announced from AfterShock Comics, but Lovecraftian crime book Miskatonic has far more going on than just politics [...] the series mixes terrorist bombings, cultists worshipping ancient gods, scientists hoping to bring back the dead, and — of course — a spooky house where rats live inside the walls.
In truth, the well-written series is more cosmic horror and less politics. It ably weaves together the monsters and heroes of Lovecraft's New England tales of terror into a single cohesive, intertextual, story, under the umbrella an FBI investigation launched by J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover, and his campaign against radicals, immigrants, "deviants," and other assorted undesirables, acts as little more than a narrative device for highlighting, with tepid criticism, the racism, misogyny, and xenophobia inherent in Lovecraft's original works.
Cultists meet under the hoods of the Klan, believing that ethnic cleansing will be achieved through destruction of humanity. Radical ideas, such as those espoused by Leftists and Catholics, are intertwined with the immoral writings of the Necronomicon. But, readers (like me), who anticipate a vast political conspiracy intertwined with the Cthulhu mythos will be disappointed.
"In reality," Mark Sable reveals, "it’s a white supremacist occult conspiracy, and can only be stopped by the very people that Hoover detests." In sum, it is a 1920s story with 2020s political sensibilities and relevance.
This plot point carries with it its own risks and weaknesses, as attempts to disrupt the deep racism of Lovecraft’s work frequently reinforce certain stereotypes (see, for example, criticisms of the HBO series Lovecraft Country). Miskatonic's hero, Miranda Keller — one of the first female agents of the nascent FBI - for example, rails against the people and sexist sentiments that suggest she is less than capable because she is a woman. And yet, she devotedly adheres to the demands, expectations, and worldview of Hoover who implemented the sexist policies that prohibited the hiring of women in the FBI for decades to come. Her partner on this particular mission, Tom Malone, who Lovecraft fans will recognize from The Horror at Red Hook, also chooses to persecute innocent immigrants in his quest to stop The Esoteric Order of Dagon and the return of the Deep Ones.
Miskatonic, and Lovecraft Country for that matter, are not alone in their struggle to address prejudice without reinforcing stereotypes, or at least reinforcing, through recreating, distinctions of class, race, gender, etc. For example, even if the often-celebrated "blue eyes/brown eyes" experiment designed to help people understand the experience of subjugation effectively normalizes social hierarchies.
Overall, Lovecraft fans may appreciate how deftly Miskatonic brings the characters and plots of Herbert West-Reanimator, The Dunwich Horror, Color Out of Space, The Horror at Redhook, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, At the Mountains of Madness, and more together. Noir fans may appreciate the aesthetic. Readers looking for conspiracy on par with The Department of Truth or even X-Files may be left wanting more.
~Christina M. Knopf
19 May 2021