Thursday, March 24, 2011

Neonomicon #4 - "I feel good about it."

Neonomicon #4 (Avatar)
"The Lurker Within"
Written by Alan Moore; art by Jacen Burrows.

[In which I attempt to review this comic and fail.]

Let's start with a quote from Alan Moore himself:
It is one of the blackest, most misanthropic pieces that I’ve ever done. I was in a very, very bad mood.
Well, that certainly explains a few things. Although in the end, I'm not sure being in a bad mood, even a "very, very bad mood," justifies this book. I mean, misanthropy is one thing. If you're pissed off at the world and feel like writing a story about how human beings are nothing but vermin that deserve to be wiped out by Cthulhu, I say go for it. What I find a little bit more difficult to swallow is that if you summarize the whole story, leaving out a few details, it goes like this: A woman (who is a former sex addict) gets raped - repeated, brutally, and graphically - by a monster. Miraculously, she survives, escapes, and then says: "I feel good about myself, about all this. (...) For the first time I got no problems with my self-esteem."

(Oh, spoilers, I guess.)

All right, I know people are going to say that was unfair, there's a lot more going on in this, it's Alan Moore, etc! But that doesn't negate the fact that this is pretty much what happens. This is a four-issue mini-series, two issues of which are almost entirely devoted to graphic and horrific depictions of this woman's rape. And in the last couple of pages, she says she feels good about it and that it helped her self-esteem.

Okay, fine, fine. What are some of the other things going on here? Well, she's pregnant with Cthulhu, and there's all this metafictional stuff going on, and there's a big dome over the city, and they talk in a weird language, and they see reality as it really is (basically looks like an acid trip, in case you were wondering), and...

Oh, you know what? I can't be bothered. She says she feels good about it. About being raped. Repeatedly. By a monster. With a giant cock! It helped her self-esteem!

What the fuck is wrong with you, Alan Moore?!!


R. Ramirez March 24, 2011 at 4:09 PM  

But she admits that her mind might be under the influence of, well, whatever cosmic horrors are at play in here, which is why she is, both to us and her surprise, OK with the whole ordeal.

Yan Basque March 24, 2011 at 4:23 PM  

Well, like I said, I know there's more going on here. But whatever the reasons or explanations or justifications might be, that's still more or less what happens.

Derek Brink March 25, 2011 at 1:48 AM  

I agree completely. I do feel like if you could reduce some of the rape segments, there's a good story to be had in here. Issue one was good. I like the basic wrap-up of issue four...but issues two and three were just rape fetish porn with no real purpose. I'm not saying that her rape didn't have a PLACE in the story...but two issues worth of it? Little much. It just seemed like Moore sat down and thought, "How much rape can I cram into this thing?" and the answer was "About 10 pages or so..." It could have been done WAY more tastefully and still have led to just as impactful an ending. (And he could have left out her feeling "good" entirely, even without altering anything else, and I'd be a lot happier with it.)

More than being disturbed by the rape sequences (and I was--don't misread that as me dismissing it), I also just felt like that aspect of the story was un-Lovecraftian. I've spent a lot of time reading the Mythos, and I didn't see a whole lot of sex in it. I doubt very much that when Lovecraft imagined Cthulhu, he imagined a pendulous, swinging penis. I doubt that the Elder Gods would even bear that close a similarity to humans in their reproductive organs or methods. And let's not even bother exmaining the improbability of human/non-human pregnancy actually being biologically possible (or the fact that the one place this is most notably even hinted at by Lovecraft is in Innsmouth, where it becomes very clear that human/non-human lifeforms don't develop the look of the Gods until adulthood). I know that Moore was playing with the concept of "What if Lovecraft got the terror right, but the details wrong?" and all that...but the departures just seemed unfaithful to the fans of the lore. really WAS a LOT of rape. And so much of it was done with almost a comedic tone to it (especially in issue 2). Then to justify it as a self-esteem boost... Just tasteless.

But I'm writing off some of my frustration with the notions of "At least everybody basically got exactly what they deserved in the end" and also, "She was raped by humans too, so she might be wrong about it being Cthulhu, and maybe this can all be excused as a form of Stockholm Syndrome or something." But still...ugh.

Anyway...thanks for your review. Ran across it on Google looking for others who feel the same way about it that I do and aren't just praising it as "boundry pushing" or some-such nonsense. Glad to know at least a COUPLE of people out there looked at the story and still felt the tug of morality.

Sorry my response was so long. :)

cuddle March 25, 2011 at 11:23 AM  

I don't have the issue in front of me right now, but IIRC, it's not the rape that improves her self-esteem. It's the fact that she's pregnant, with Cthulhu, and that the Outer Gods respect her. Her pregnancy and the respect it has garnered for her, in my reading, have given her the strength to deal emotionally with what she went through in issues 2 and 3, and with her past sexual problems. At no point in the series do I find a suggestion that Breers (or Moore) thought that her rape was in itself a positive thing whatsoever.

cuddle March 25, 2011 at 11:30 AM  

As for Moore's aforementioned black mood, I agree, this is a very misanthropic work. None of it is directed at Breers, however. I see overt misanthropy in the Salem cultists, who are total scum concerned solely with their own pleasure. I also see subtle misanthropy in the portrayal of Breers' boss, who in his own way is also primarily concerned with his own pleasure. The general tone of the whole book is that humanity, as Breers puts it in this issue, really is a kind of vermin. In this universe, we fucked up the environment so badly that we had to install environmental shields to protect outselves (one detail that never got explained in the series proper, only in the original short story this is all based on, which is a failing on Moore's part). Even the "good" characters are acting out of a desire to get laid; at the end, Breers' boss tells her that he's not JUST trying to get into her pants again.

When your mood is this black, the impending arrival of Cthulhu, who will "sort that all out," might be a plus.

Alan David Doane March 25, 2011 at 2:47 PM  

Great observations, Cuddle.

Yan Basque March 25, 2011 at 3:30 PM  

Cuddle, she doesn't specify whether she means the rape or the pregnancy precisely, but she says: "I feel good about myself, about all this." So, yes, you could take that to mean mostly the fact that she's going to give birth to Cthulhu and that he will "sort it all out." You're probably right that this is the intended meaning, in fact.

But again, and this is my point, none of thise doesn't negate the fact that this is a book in which the graphic rape of this woman, which goes on for two whole issues, is portrayed as having ultimately nothing but positive consequences.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that Alan Moore believes rape is a great thing, or that rape victims generally feel good about what happened to them. But he did write a book in which this is what happens. Take from that what you will.

In a way, my own refusal to engage further into an analysis of the book is playing against me, here. I've reduced it to this one aspect of it because I wanted to strategically highlight how fucked up I think that aspect of it is. But as I said, I am aware that there is more going on.

Anyway. I appreciate all the comments. I may eventually have more to say about this work, but for now, I need to take a step back from it and cleanse my mind's palate with something that isn't so full of hate and despair about the world.

Yan Basque March 25, 2011 at 3:32 PM  

Oops. Sorry about the double negative in my second paragraph. Should be "this doesn't negate..." etc.

Derek Brink March 25, 2011 at 7:21 PM  

I feel like even if she was referring to the supposed favor of the Gods, then it still boils down to "I'm so happy the Gods liked me enough to rape me for a few days in a row!" Plus, I think by her own description of the event that it is fairly apparent that the demon raping her didn't really have the intention of bringing about the birth of Cthulhu, or know that she was pregnant until right before he set her free. By her description, I gathered that the demon only realized she was pregnant when he sniffed her urine, and I imagine the thought process was, "she's going to have my baby...maybe I'll stop raping her now." I didn't think that he had the intention of impregnating her, but rater of just satisfying his urges. (I've even seen other sickening defenses of this whole thing on the net where people have said things like they didn't think the demon was raping her out of desire, but just as something it "needed" to do, like breathing in and out. People are really screwed up.) More than anything, I highly doubt that an easily killable fish-monster knew it was going to be the father of Cthulhu. (And I always thought it was at least implied that Dagon was Cthulhu's father--and that WASN'T Dagon, but again, I realize that Moore was playing with the theory that Lovecraft got some of the details wrong.)

Either way...I still feel like her feeling "good" about the whole event, even if she's meaning to say that she feels good that she's the mother of the destruction of humankind, sends a really upsetting message about the pages and pages of (largely un-necessary) rape. But that's just how I see it. Of course, it is as open to interpretation as anything else Moore's done.

Enjoying the discussion. Glad I found this blog!

Patrick March 26, 2011 at 5:42 PM  

I really liked this series, but this rant is going to sound like I don't. I think this is because this could have been perfect and legendary if Alan Moore could control himself once in a while:

Even though I liked the overall story, you're right that the only real "arc" you can get out of this book is that "rape is good." Just because it's "an Alan Moore comic" does not make it automatically strong or important. In fact, his dialogue is piss-poor here, with most lines ending in "faggot, asshole," etc, just to be bitter. Also, how can a writer bash the source material while simultaneously praising it as well? The characters site that "Lovecraft's writing was trite," and didn't have "anything about sex in it," yet Neonomicon is built off of the rich, encompassing work of Lovecraft, oh.... but the main character HAS to have a sex addition and be raped for two issues straight.

If it was any other writer, people would be outraged at the OVERuse of profanity and rape, but for some reason people love Alan Moore. I'm all for this kind of material, if it makes sense in some sort of real use, instead of just shock-value.

The only reason I liked this comic so much is because it really captured the feel and purposes of a Lovecraft story, (when the characters weren't picking on him, that is). Hopefully the next series (if there is any), Alan Moore can put a little less of "himself" in it and actually write a strong story arc.

Ben H March 28, 2011 at 9:41 AM  

But her acceptance of the situation is *supposed* to be horrifying, and a result of her total alienation from humanity, plus maybe mind control by alien gods. That doesn't mean Alan Moore is saying that being raped boosts someone's self-esteem.

Depiction doesn't mean necessarily mean advocacy or endorsement.

I mean, Chinatown is a film where a man impregnates his own daughter and his daughter/granddaughter ends up staying with him at the end. That doesn't mean Roman Polanski believes that- OK, bad example.

Patrick March 28, 2011 at 12:23 PM  

Ha, Polanski. Ben, I think you're my new favorite person :)

And you're right, it is suppose to be horrifying. My point lies more on the line of the excessiveness of depicting that point. Almost two full issues were dedicated to the rape itself, amongst Moore's usual "flavorful" dialogue that is uncharacteristic and always out-of-place.

I think that my frustration is that, if this were any other writer, it would be critiqued as a piece of writing instead of a "product of Alan Moore." If we were to take the stigma of reading a "Moore story" out of the equation, then the weaknesses in both the writing and the author would be properly analyzed.

That being said, the strengths of Moore are here as well. I thought it was a great story within the "Lovecraftian" realm, and genuinely horrifying. I hope he does a follow-up soon!

Ben H March 28, 2011 at 2:54 PM  

Whether it's "excessive" or not is a different matter, but it's a misreading to say that the "arc" of the story is "rape is good".

I don't understand why we have to criticise the story based on summarising it in one sentence, but if we have to, then surely the capsule summary is "the human species is such a bunch of evil rapists that Cthulhu might be a better alternative".

Also, I have no idea what you mean by the dialogue being "uncharacteristic" and "out-of-place". How is it out of place for characters in a cyberpunk dystopia to talk like they do? Are you saying they should all talk in New England dialect like characters from a Lovecraft story?

Yan Basque March 28, 2011 at 3:37 PM  

I don't think that the message of this story is that rape is good or that Alan Moore thinks rape increases victims' self-esteem. If you're reducing my argument to that, then you're not understanding my problem with the story.

My argument is this:

No matter what Alan Moore intended, no matter what the "message" or "moral" of the story is, what happens in the story is that a woman gets raped and subsequently says for the first time in her life she feels good about her self and no longer has self-esteem issues. I don't think anybody can disagree with that statement, because it's nothing more than a description of what happens in the comic.

Personally, I think this is problematic, no matter what the in-story justifications might be. Even if we are meant to be "horrified" by her reaction (which I'm not convinced that we are), I just think the whole thing is in very poor taste. Unlike Patrick, my problem is less with the "excess" in the depiction of the rape than in the lack of consequences shown.

Take the film Irréversible as an point of comparison. It was infamous for its very long and brutal and graphic rape scene. In some ways, that film is as misanthropic as Neonomicon, because the message at the core of it seems to be that humans are animals who can't escape their violent nature or destructive need for revenge. A woman gets raped and her boyfriend goes out and brutally murders the wrong guy because of it. Joke's on us for suffering through it.

As much as I dislike that film and Gaspard Noé's view of human nature, at least I can't fault him for trivializing rape. Which I think Neonomicon does.

Furthermore, I'm not sure I agree that her acceptance of the situation is meant to be horrifying. I think we're supposed to be siding with her a little. There's nothing horrifying about the fact that she's okay with the fact that Cthulhu is coming to "sort it all out," because Alan Moore has just demonstrated that humans are vermin and that they (we?) deserve what's coming to them. So her acceptance of what's coming makes perfect sense. It's the line about self-esteem that really annoys me, though. Because I'm not sure why it's thrown in there. It seems both unnecessary and tonally off. It's not "horrifying" so much as it is unrealistic and wrong. I just can't accept it as something a rape victim would say, even one who is pregnant with Cthulhu.

PS: What does Neonomicon have to do with cyberpunk?

Ben H March 28, 2011 at 5:53 PM  

I'd say that the situation is horrifying *and* that we are supposed to be siding with her a little. It's horrifying that she's going to give birth to something that will end the human era, and it's horrifying that her experiences, culminating in the ordeal with the cultists, have allowed her to see this as a good thing.

I do think her reaction is partly supposed to read as wrong and uncanny, and possibly down to the influence of the Elder Gods, as she herself says.

The fact that she has low self-esteem is set up right from the beginning, and maybe it stems from the objectified way she is treated by society (e.g. her boss's attitude to her) and the way she has internalised cultural double standards (referring to herself as "a dirty whore" etc.). The cultists with their pornified, literally dehumanised culture, where she's objectified and simultaneously derided for being "not pretty enough", could be read as a stand-in for the same kind of trends in the wider culture.

So maybe the prospect of wiping all that away, and literally transcending her body with the visions of Leng, also contributes towards her reaction.

But ultimately, if you find the line rings false and is in bad taste, I can't argue you into liking it. It is certainly debatable about whether a horror comic derived from pulp fiction is really the place to address these kind of themes.

I said cyberpunk because when Moore wrote The Courtyard in 1994, the setting was an imagined, gritty version of 2004. The pollution domes are the only element he's used in Neonomicon, but in The Courtyard there were also fax-booths and nano-cams. Calling it "cyberpunk" is probably going too far - I just mean that it's a slightly dystopian alternative world (aside from the whole "Lovecraft was writing fact" element).

Rich Johnston March 29, 2011 at 7:04 AM  

I think we can agree that Neonomicon is in very poor taste.

Doesn't mean it's bad. Milk & Cheese, South Park, The Bible, Snuff Box, Brazil, Brass Eye, The Aristocrats, Doonesbury, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Fringe, Trainspotting, are also frequently in very poor taste, while also being remarkable works.

Te untraditional reaction to trauma is a common aspect of drama and usually used to highlight that something is very wrong. In Neonomicon it is used to highlight the fact that apocalypse is upon us.

Patrick March 31, 2011 at 7:35 PM  

Ben, I agree with your last post completely. I think my problem is, like Rich said, there is an excess of material that could make the story stronger if it was trimmed down.

I think Moore always adds so much controversy to his characters that the ones that are suppose to be the "real-life" characters come off as fake, instead of making them real. I'm all for harsh language, rape, blood, and anything else in a horror story, but if you go too far with your real characters than I stop believing in the reality those characters believe they are in.

dagonet April 3, 2011 at 10:45 AM  

@Brink: you have some very queer notions about Lovecrafts cosmos, if you do not mind me saying so?

That aside: "ahem" Polyanna in Leauge of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
I cannot be the only one who noticed?
It seems a quite American reaction, to me (upon surviving such an experience at all, mentally & physically, that is).

It is a quite good story, though one does agree that theres a bit much rape padding. It also is at least an attempt at subverting the "woman as victim" cliche exploited by the more repugnant sort of horror tale.
If Mr. Moore wanted rape prn, one is sure he would know better places to get it.

That Mr. Moore seems a bit confused by Mr. Lovecraft himself ("there are no women in his stories". Is that so)

Derek Brink April 4, 2011 at 12:09 AM  

If by "queer" you mean "unusual" (and not a homophobic insult), then we're cool. Not every fan of the mythos views or interprets it the same way. (Though I'm not sure where I'm wrong, if you'd care to elaborate...)

Derek Brink April 4, 2011 at 12:23 AM  

Oh...oh sorry. You're probably mostly referring to my statement that I think it's implied that Dagon is Cthulhu's father. I know there's a little bit of a leap in reasoning there. It's not unprecedented though. I'm not the first to say it. It's mostly just connecting dots that may or may not be there between the "Father Dagon" title and the percieved length of time Cthulhu has been on Earth vs. how long there have been various myths and religious worshipers of Dagon (who is mentioned even in the Bible). I'm aware that many see that as a leap in reasoning, and it's one that I'm more than prepared to dismiss as conjecture, if it stands in the way of an otherwise mutual appreciation for Lovecraft's writing.

Yan Basque April 4, 2011 at 12:23 AM  

Can't speak for dagonet, but I'm pretty sure he was using "queer" as in "unusual." Don't see any reason to interpret it any other way.

Derek Brink April 4, 2011 at 1:29 AM  

I would assume so, and I don't mean to start any ill-will by questioning it... It's just one of those words that's a little antiquated and can be read several ways, especially in Midwestern America (where I live). Most people around here don't use it with the literal meaning anymore. :)

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