“… and then vague horror began to creep into our souls” … welcome to the Mountains Of Madness
Adapted from the original novel by H.P. Lovecraft, text adapted and illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard
At The Mountains Of Madness is a really successful adaptation of Lovecraft’s 1936 tale, far truer to the spirit of the man than I got from Moore’s recent Neonomicon. Ian Culbard, previously known to me only as the artist on the most enjoyble Sherlock Holmes and Dorian Gray books, proves himself a far more than capable adapter of Lovecraft’s tale of snowbound Antarctic terror.
Even for those of us relatively unaware of Lovecraft’s original story, it’s a familiar tale of a scientific expedition to the Antarctic uncovering horrifying alien beasts. There have been many reworkings of the idea over the years with my own personal touchstone being John Carpenter’s 1982 movie The Thing, that brilliantly plays on my fear and can still have me scared witless even after all these years.
At The Mountains Of Madness begins sometime in the 1930s with a young scientist called Danforth reeling in horror at the prospect of the proposed Starkweather-Moore expedition to the Antarctic that’s all over the newspapers. His reasons are simple – he was part of the ill-fated expedition of scientific explorers who ventured south to the most desolate continent on Earth in 1930. At The Mountains Of Madness is his retelling of the horrific and amazing experiences he and his fellow explorers shared.
The scientific team quickly discover something truly incredible – strange fossilised evidence of previous civilisations;
“Possibly the print of some large, unknown organism of considerably advanced evolution.”
“These fragments must be between five hundred million and a thousand million years old.”
Camp opinion is split, some want to pursue the trail of these wonder rocks, others wish to stick with their original plan. But these are men of science, and a compromise is reached, pursuit of this geological mystery is too tempting to be passed up, and a team is despatched. They take three of the four expedition planes and fly inland, destined to find an incredible lost world of the “Old Ones” where they learn of many things, secrets of the Earth’s past, of “Cthulhu” and of the secret history of mankind.
The work of any adapter of prose into comics has a difficult job, getting the fine balance between slavishly transcribing the author’s words and stamping their own graphic authority over the work, but Culbard does a thoroughly great job here and has managed to get a Lovecraftian experience onto the graphic novel page.
It’s a great book, a wonderful sci-fi story that begins perfectly, just as Lovecraft intended, as something of a traditional adventure story, with the preparation, the battle against the Antarctic elements, and the explorer’s zeal for conquest of this barren, inhospitable land.
Just as we settle into a familiar rhythm the creeping tension begins to build, first with the discovery of the impossible rocks, then with the rising tensions amongst the scientists and the brutal, horrific murders at the camp that point first to madness and later, to something far more otherworldly.
Culbard’s artwork is something I’ve come to greatly admire through his recent adaptations with Ian Edginton on Dorian Gray and Sherlock Holmes. And with this Lovecraft adaptation his work is everything I’ve come to love. It straddles the border of cartooning and realism, with character’s beautifully realised, yet always stylised, always a work of comics rather than straight portrature. This gives the work all the energy it needs, and above all, Culbard’s art is simply lovely to look at, just like anything you’ll see on this review will no doubt tell you.
But if there’s one thing at fault with At The Mountains Of Madness it’s that it just didn’t give me the chills and fright I wanted it to. I wanted this book to unnerve and scare me, just like any great work of horror should. But as exciting and readable as it was, I didn’t get the thrill of being scared. A lot of this is down to Culbard’s artwork, which, great as it may be, just isn’t dark enough where it counts. The colour pallette is just a bit too bright, and it never really took me fully into the horror of the story in the way I really wanted.
However, that’s the only thing wrong. Instead of a gorgeous, thrilling adventure descending into horror we’re left with merely a gorgeous, thrilling adventure with a touch of tension about it.
At The Mountains Of Madness didn’t give me all the chills and suspenseful horror I really wanted, but it did work, near perfectly, as an enthralling story, full of intrigue and amazement, just as Lovecraft intended it. Congratulations to Culbard for doing such a great job.
At The Mountains Of Madness is released from SelfMadeHero on 28th October.