I have a confession to make: I’ve never read any of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories. It’s a major failing of mine considering how his work has influenced a lot of what I read, play, and listen to. One of these days I figure to finally sit down and start reading my way through his canon, but that day isn’t today. With that said, I didn’t pick up this manga adaptation of three of Lovecraft’s stories in the hope that it would help balance the scales of my karma. My purchase of this collection mainly came down to my ongoing desire to support the kind of manga I’d like to see from Dark Horse. As far as providing a worthwhile reading experience, however, this collection left me with the feeling that the real appeal of Lovecraft’s stories must lie within his actual prose.
This collection contains three manga adaptations of Lovecraft’s stories by mangaka Gou Tanabe. He was unknown to me prior to reading this, but a short text piece at the end of the volume states that he’s best known in Japan for doing manga adaptations of literary works. Other adaptations of Tanabe’s include Anton Chekhov's “The House With the Mezzanine,” and Maxim Gorky’s “Twenty-Six Men and a Girl.” He’s apparently done more adaptations of Lovecraft as the text piece ends by stating that Dark Horse hopes to publish more of them in the future. I can’t say that’s an entirely unwelcome thought. What’s here does leave me feeling that the company’s money would be better spent on bringing new, original manga to our shores.
The first story in the collection is not the title one, but “The Temple.” It’s set during WWII and focuses on the crew of a U-boat as they start to experience unnatural things. This all begins after they sink a British freighter only to find the body of one of its crew on top of the sub some time later. After peeling his frozen hand off of a railing, they’re about to throw the body overboard when the sub’s first mate finds the head of a small idol on the man’s body and decides to keep it for himself.
What follows are reports of the British man haunting the sub and the dreams of its crew. They try to convince the first mate to give the head back to the sea, but he’s having none of it. Suicides, mutiny, and a descent into darkness are the only things awaiting anyone in the crew with the mental fortitude to withstand just going mad.
For the majority of the story, Tanabe gets full marks for creating an eerie and creepy atmosphere. His style emphasizes thick black spaces which feels very appropriate for a horror story set on a submarine. Tanabe’s characters also have a grim seriousness about them, particularly the captain, that winds up transitioning quite well into madness. The story is very much a slow burn with the tension successfully mounting as it goes on.
Where “The Temple” loses its way is at the end. Tanabe has slowly been working away at your nerves for the entire story and you’re prepared for him to open the floodgates into something genuinely terrifying at the end. What we get is something that’s more awe-inspiring, albeit in a pretty eerie way. The shift in gears effectively had me going, “Is that it?” at the end. I’m all for having my expectations subverted, but the shift in tone from horror to wonder doesn’t pay off here.
What follows is the title story which introduces us to two young rakish Englishmen who have become bored with the ordinary delights of the world and have turned their interests to something darker. Namely, grave robbing. For their latest escapade they’ve learned of the resting place of a fellow grave robber, dead some five centuries in Holland, who stole an artifact of power from a mighty sepulchre. They sail to Holland, unearth the grave, and take the artifact without a problem. The only thing is that they didn’t count on the item having a guardian that wants it returned.
Again, Tanabe is good with establishing an air of creepiness here and there’s even a bit of Lovecraft fanservice as the Necronomicon makes a cameo appearance. This story manages to lose the thread even sooner than the previous one, however, because the mangaka makes a fatal error when it comes to the artifact’s guardian. You’d think that the smart thing to do when it came to featuring this “hound” in the story would be to keep it out of the reader’s sight and just give enough details through its actions off panel and the carnage it leaves behind to let one’s imagination do the work of visualizing it. Tanabe doesn’t do that. In fact, what we do see of the titular hound gives one the impression that Nosferatu Zodd likes to do a bit freelance work between volumes of “Berserk.” While there’s some skin-crawling business with a corpse late in the story, it still winds up playing out as straightforwardly as you’d expect.
“The Nameless City” is the most successful story here in that it contains no obvious narrative missteps. It involves an explorer in the desert coming across an ancient ruin who goes on to explore its depths. What he finds are the remnants of a monstrous civilization that ruled the Earth before man came along and supplanted it. Though these creatures may be dead and gone, they can still hold a grudge.
The story manages an impressive feeling of creeping dread as you know the explorer is in for some bad times the deeper he goes. This feeling is maintained and escalated until the climax, something neither of the two stories managed to accomplish. Despite this, the story left no lasting scars on my psyche as I’d expect a good horror story to. The reason for this all comes down to the art.
While I’ve talked about how accomplished Tanabe’s art is and how it manages to inject a feeling of creepiness into these three stories, it never goes further than that. I realize people are scared by different things and I’d say there’s a decent chance that some people may look at the art here and come away frightened by what the mangaka has put on the page. Not me, however. My problem is that most comic art in horror stories never really manages to scare me, no matter how disturbing or creepy it gets. It takes a fairly specific setup in order for me to actually fear art in a story. Housui Yamazaki managed this to disturbing effect in his series “Mail” where he made scenes look completely ordinary except for that… one… thing… which was out of place and tipped the scales right into horror.
So “The Hound” was a creepy read, but not one that managed to go all the way into horror for me. Your mileage may vary. It did leave me with an interest in seeing if Lovecraft’s prose would be more effective in that regard. So there’s that, at least.