I’m sure this is heresy but I’ll say it anyway: this comic book, which was written by arguably one of the greatest writers of comics books and whose work I enjoy very much (so much so that I went to Kettering to see him talk about them), was not a good comic book in the sense of being an entertaining piece of sequential storytelling with the aim of providing escapism in fiction. It was thoroughly unpleasant and I find it hard to believe that it came from the man who bought us Watchmen and V For Vendetta and Miracleman and Top Ten and Supreme. I haven’t been enjoying Moore’s comics of late: I admired the Century trilogy of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but I didn’t find the experience of reading them particularly enjoyable or satisfactory. That’s not what I want from my entertainment – the primary function should be the ‘entertain’ part. Writing this, it feels like I’m having to explain a relationship that isn’t working any more – “It’s not you, it’s me; we’ve drifted apart. It used to be fun in the old days. It’s just not the same any more.”
The trouble with this book was that I actively disliked it, something I never thought would happen with an Alan Moore comic. It’s a really strange feeling, and it saddens me. The book is deliberately horrific, and I’m not really into horror for my entertainment tastes, but this is not an Alan Moore book I’ll be reading again (and not in the same way as not reading Violator or Violator Vs Badrock again). This depresses me in a way I can’t really explain. Moore may have written worse books (see the aforementioned Image mini-series, although I’d advise against it) but he never seemed to set out to write a book that was unpleasant and nasty and basically unreadable, as he admitted about this comic at the convention appearance at N.I.C.E.
The Courtyard is about a bigoted, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic cop who is undercover investigating murders that have led him to a strange club and a strange drug that causes even stranger things to happen to him when he is exposed to it. Neonomicon follows on from this, as two federal agents visit the detective who is now in a secure psychiatric institute after he killed some people. The agents are investigating murders with the same modus operandi, going back to the same club visited by the detective in The Courtyard. They discover a lead that sends them undercover to Salem, based on a connection to HP Lovecraft, where things go catastrophically wrong almost immediately and then they don’t get any better.
As a story, the plot is put together well enough and it is filled with background detail that roots it in reality. Burrows does his usual detailed job on art duties, drawing talking head scenes and horror scenes and the surreal scenes (particularly the double-page spread in The Courtyard when the detective’s mind is opened by the strange drug) with equal skill and dexterity. However, this is a story where a former sex-addict female agent is repeatedly raped by a Lovecraftian fish monster and then she ends up happy after escaping when she realises she is pregnant with a creature that, when given birth, will bring about the end of the world. It’s not enough to have the great meta moment at the end of the first issue of Neonomicon, where the character the agents are chasing disappears in a mural on a wall – great skill in comic book storytelling don’t make up for a story I found unpleasant to read. Perhaps it is just me, but it’s put me off buying the very few Alan Moore comics that are being produced now.