Providence: Act 1 (2017) by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows

“Still casting around for ideas, I took another look at Leticia Wheatley’s crayon drawings. I confess that I hadn’t really paid them much attention beyond observing that they looked like the work of somebody who was mentally disturbed,” (p. 156)

 

Providence: Act 1 collects issues #1-4 of the twelve-issue Avatar comic book penned by Alan Moore with art by Jacen Burrows. Opening in New York during the summer of 1919, we experience the story through the eyes of Robert Black, a reporter for the New York Herald. Black sets out to explore a lead on a scandal concerning an infamous book, “Sous le Monde,” which allegedly sent some of its readers insane. His initial inquiries lead him to the apartment of one Doctor Alvarez, a local doctor with a strange health condition which forces him to keep his apartment permanently chilled.

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In the next three parts of Act 1, Black’s journey takes him from the immigrant-rich Red Hook, Brooklyn, to the Church of St. Jude in Salem, and then finally on to the small town of Athol, Massachusetts. His investigations bring him face to face with some characters displaying “the Innsmouth look,” resulting in some memorable panels of art by Burrows.

“Today I had to wait around all day before the evening bus to Athol came, and when it did it soon filled up with Salem faces like a giant can of sardines. It made for an uncomfortable bus-journey,” (p. 111)

 

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Meticulously researched by Moore, Providence is his love letter to H.P. Lovecraft. Bursting at the seams with references to Lovecraft’s tales of cosmic horror, as well as his life during the early 1920s, this is not your everyday comic book. It contains beautifully detailed artwork by Jacen Burrows who has rendered the period details with consummate skill. There is so much going on in each panel that it feels almost impossible to read quickly. On top of this are the pages of additional text that close each chapter of the story. These vary from hand-written diary style pieces by the main character Robert Black, to extracts from books and pamphlets mentioned in the narrative. That’s a lot of information!

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I wanted to like this more, but I feel like I respect it more than I admire it. This is not an easy read. It is high-quality work by the creative team, but it took me a month to complete it. Phew! I’m sure you could sit down and read it in one sitting if you were so inclined, but I wanted to take my time with it. There are only four issues of the comic in here, but when I finished it, I felt like I’d just finished reading a full-length book.

Recommended for serious fans of Lovecraft or Moore. I haven’t decided if I will be buying the next volume or not.

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