Providence Early Discussions and Predictions Open Thread

Providence #1 Page 17, panel 4 detail,
Providence #1 Page 17, panel 4 detail, written by Alan Moore, art by Jacen Burrows

It’s difficult to guess where Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows will take Providence after just one issue and about a dozen upcoming covers. As various people have been said to have said, prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. Or even about the near-future-past of the futuristic fictional past.

We’ve been trying to keep our Providence annotations grounded in what is already in the comic, without a lot of speculation about what’s next. We’ve been starting to see some ideas of what’s possibly to come in the comments of Providence #1 annotations… so we figured open up a discussion here at this post.

At the risk of expecting that I will look foolish later, I’ll kick it off with a two of my personal observations and questions… [Warning: SPOILERS!] 

  1. The seemingly halfway-easy predictions: “So much of this is made of books” (Providence #1, Page 32.) I think that the Arab book will lead Black to Robert Suydam, which wraps him into H.P. Lovecraft’s story “The Horror at Red Hook.” The Red Hook dance hall church, in nearby Brooklyn, is on the Providence #2 cover. Then it looks like Innsmouth (of Lovecraft’s story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth“) is in store for Providence #3, based on these two covers. The path from Red Hook to Innsmouth potentially goes through the “J. Edgar Hoover circus freak” photo (image here – from The Courtyard #1, P22,p2) which could be one of the Deep Ones come to Red Hook from Innsmouth. Then I wonder how it all ends up getting to Providence, Rhode Island.
  2. I’ve been going back and forth on what’s going on Providence #1 Page 26 – the second to last comics page. It’s the last page we see Robert Black, where he says “I… uh… I-I know that he [Russell] read Sous Le Monde.” I initially interpreted this as Robert Black’s naivete and superstition. He was ignoring that he had just dumped Russell, thinking that Sous Le Monde had killed Russell. This would make for a slightly supernatural ending for an otherwise not necessarily at all supernatural issue #1. After reading Raúl Moreno’s comment, though, now I think it looks more like Black is being “knowingly dishonest” (see P21,p4) and lying to try to throw his newspaper colleagues off from looking for a motive for Russell’s suicide, because this could lead them to discovering Black’s closeted homosexuality. I put the question out on Reddit, and respondents thought it’s possible that both of these are true…

Readers – What do you think?

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26 thoughts on “Providence Early Discussions and Predictions Open Thread

  1. I agree about Suydam- it looks like the story will lead to Flatbush in Brooklyn.

    I do wonder if there’s a connection to Russell in all this- ‘Book of the Wisdom of the Stars’ and it’s ‘four methods’ for reviving cadavers- might Robert Blake’s journey lead him to at least investigate some way of bringing Russell back and righting the wrongs.

    Possibly that’s a bit too predictable though.

    Dr. Alvarez’s comment about “Do you plan a safari into the dark continent, Mr. Black?” seems a bit of heavy foreshadowing- obviously not meaning central Africa but the dark journey that Blake’s going to go on.

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  2. Page 26: At first, maybe Black is only confused and he says “I know that he read Sous Le Monde”, then he realizes what has happened and he carries his hand to his mouth in panel 4, but he doesn’t tell anything, being knowingly dishonest.

    Page 27: I think the sexual relationship between Dr. Alvarez and Mrs. Ortega is a bit strange. Moore insists on this with one of the last pages of the issue. It could be connected with the orgies or sex rituals in Neonomicon and The Horror at Red Hook.

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  3. Like Seigor Bolskan I found the relation with Dr. Alvarez and Mrs. Ortega odd as well. Until I reread the book again tonight.

    Page 13: Dr. Alvarez mentioned that Mr. Ortega was ALSO dead. I’m not sure that was caught on the annotation. Definite foreshadowing.

    Knowing a little about “Cool Air” I’m wondering if Dr. Alvarez was performing some service (or promising a service) for the late Mr. Ortega.

    That could give a reason for the inclusion of this odd affair between Alvarez and the widow.

    Also later on page 13, Alvarez even mentions that “it (love) is not interrupted by death.”

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  4. Keeping in line with the literary awareness in the Neonomicon (with Brears getting the Lovecraft references), it seems to me like Providence is going to touch upon the nature of fiction and writing, a theme Moore explores in many of his works. For instance, the Neonomicon establishes the idea that Lovecraft based his stories on real events. So presumably, in the world of Providence, HPL will write “The Cool Air” inspired by Dr. Alvarez and simply change the names. That’s why we’re getting analogs instead of Dr. Muñoz and Mrs. Herrero themselves. Johnny Carcosa also states in the Neonomicon that Lovecraft had the wrong idea with “dead names.” So that’s why we’re getting the Book of the Wisdom of the Stars as opposed to the Necronomicon. The HPL of Providence will invent the latter book based on the former.

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  5. Kabbalah has sephardic roots so maybe Moore is thinking about it when he mentions “sfarda”, as he has talked about this esoteric tradition before.

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  6. Does anyone think that the house on the regular cover of issue 5 could be the one from “The colour out of space”? It’s near Arkham (Manchester), the ‘stone event’ of 1882 has been already mentioned and snow appears several times in the story: «Nahum himself gave the most definite statement of anyone when he said he was disturbed about certain footprints in the snow».

    On the other hand, we have Hekeziah Massey in the Women of HPL cover…

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    • We’ve been discussing what’s next – especially with the College itself on the Providence #6 cover. If we’re talking Arkham and Miskatonic University, there are more than a dozen directions Providence #5 could go in. From the last line of the Commonplace Book, it seemed like “Herbert West – Reanimator” was would be the subject of Providence #5, but then he’s on the Providence #6 portrait cover. I’d guess that it’s likely one or more of these – “Herbert West – Reanimator”, “Dreams in the Witch House”, “The Colour out of Space” and/or “The Picture in the House.”

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  7. After putting together what was put forword by John Zaharick and the fact that the “funny little Englishman” (who seems to be a member of the Stella Sapiente cult) has been identified as the father of H.P. Lovecraft, it seems to me that Black’s Commonplace Book will end up in the possession of first Lovecraft senior, and later his son, who will in the end use the characters mentioned in it for his own stories.

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    • While not impossible – due to the possibility of time travel – I think there’s a small problem in that scenario, in that the events of Providence take place in 1919 and Winfield Scott Lovecraft died in 1898.

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      • Thank you for this information: I was not aware of that.

        On the other hand, neither is Black at this point of the story, and it is still possible that he will later on be looking for the Englishman, and come in contact with others members of the Lovecraft family instead.

        A little research tells me for instance that H.P. Lovecraft’s mother was still alive in 1919. Maybe it is no coincidence that 1919 is also the year when she was committed to a mental hospital.

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  8. ok then… and of course if this turns out to be *wrong* then everyone can just roll their eyes and ignore me – !

    i think our hapless (and rather clueless – as plenty of others have pointed out) protagonist is going to end up vivisected, and at least part of him eaten – specifically his heart.

    the repeated *peeling back* motif of course refers, on one level, to RB’s quest to uncover “hidden america” and the secrets which lie beneath society’s surface; but i strongly suspect there will be a far more horrifically literal aspect to it as well. (refs below are to #1)

    p7/4: “i want something… that cuts to the heart” says RB, just about to take a bite of his lunch. (his fingers even somewhat resemble spread ribs when the image is viewed in this light.)

    p21/2 – lily’s knife and fork are pointed right at RB, indeed the knife points directly to his heart

    … ok, two panels do not constitute any sort of irrefutable evidence, but this isn’t that sort of deal. and i’m sure we could go on, if we really wanted to look. (i’m still trying to hold off deep-analyzing this one until some time after it’s finished.) as i’ve mentioned before, there is a startling picture on alvarez’ wall – one which may turn out to be horribly prophetic…

    what i will just do at this point is run through pp 1, 5-7 of that first issue and explicate at least some of the signs which are (semi-)intelligible at this point (and in doing so demonstrate most of the reasons why i have come to look at this stuff in such a way to begin with)…

    p1 – in the first panel the eye is drawn immediately to “as for afterwards… you naughty boy”. but of course the letter, besides telling us practically everything we need to know about RB’s relationship with lily, is mainly shown just so we can see it getting torn in half: i gasped out loud when i first saw panel 2. i don’t remember anything similar ever being done in a comic (or anywhere else for that matter). right away, we are confronted not just with the idea of peeling back the surface, but of *tearing through layers* as if cutting skin. by panel 3, the emphasis has become completely different, it’s just the tearing of a love-letter again, but the visual symbolism is more complex; the V-shape suggests a vagina, this being backed up by the proximity of the river – which of course itself has another meaning, that of the river (styx) which lily is contemplating before he crosses it. at the bottom of the page we see lily himself, in black as for his own funeral, wearing his public persona, and – of course – only visible from behind… for reasons which i think a lot of us have already pretty much figured out (you know how that ith).

    (pp2-4 have lots of “accidental” tarot-style relative-figure imagery which hint at all sorts of useful detail for the various characters… p2 also bears the chapter title of course, and this will look very different after the story is complete – well, it already does, because we know how important RB’s judaic provenance will turn out to be: the yellow sign is “a badge of shame”)

    p5 – first introduction of the “dreaded boots” – actually just shoes in this case, but the spats make them resemble boots somewhat – and of course we still don’t really know what this motif means (unless it is “just” a matter of the jackboot…) but it struck me immediately on first reading. once i started to see it repeated i understood that it is bound to be important. [although relatively little “happens” on this page, it is visually very striking and powerful.]

    p6 – was a coat over the left arm a known gay man’s code? (tom malone also uses it, along with the green tie.) this page is where our time-slippage begins, with alternating flashbacks drastically compressing RB’s small-town upbringing and telling us something crucial about him. AM is far too seasoned a campaigner for it to be any sort of accident that the words “horn” “hard” and “hot” are what remains clearly legible of the signage in the right half of panel 3 – the part that RB is approaching. panel 4’s *hand* may turn out to be as important as the foot was on p5, we see these quite a lot too – although sometimes they are specifically attached to bent arms (as we will first see very strikingly on the following page). RB’s father asks what they have in the big city that they don’t have in milwaukee? …

    … and p7 shows us at once a prosaic answer – the automats – and the real answer: places where gay men can meet, however furtively. (oh look, another hand.) panel 3 is extraordinary: the light on the wall behind charles very strongly suggests an actual swastika – there is something very “berlinesque” about the whole image, or at least that part of it. and this in turn befits the first appearance of something which we will see over and over again: people with bent arms in the presence of RB. and the bottom panel… well, we’ve done that one.

    we could really go on and on with this analysis, because it’s all placed in there very carefully by AM. he seems to have understood at once how to utilise JB’s unique qualities as a master illustrator (i use the word advisedly because burrows really isn’t an *artist* in the way that, say, richard corben or eric powell are) to work deeply-disturbing visual magic on a more ambitious level than even he had attempted before. *neonomicon* took me about two weeks to shake off when i read it, and this one is even more deep and powerful still… probably just as well that i’m consuming it piecemeal – ! (i got ill after reading the other one, and didn’t regard it as any sort of coincidence…)

    [incidentally, i’m sorry if any of what i’ve said above overlaps with anyone else’s observations – none of it was nicked from anybody, but there are a lot of intelligent readers congregating around here and we are bound to have the same insights at times – !]

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    • The peeling back and heart motif is interesting – I can see it after you’ve pointed it out… but I think it’s still speculative… and curious to see if it comes true. Time will tell.

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      • oh, of course… i certainly wouldn’t expect it to be worked into the actual annotations at this point…

        …incidentally, my wondering about the constellation visible in the evening sky when RB returns from his interview with alvarez – if padraig is right and it’s ursa minor, then the significance may really be the presence of polaris (which is – consequently – visible in the tiny sliver of sky vouchsafed to us by the tilted view of the tenement in the issue’s last panel. still don’t know why this would be important… but then AM is an awful lot better-read than me (and as i’ve previously said, i am well out of practice with my HPL too, one of the main reasons why i am indebted to this site!)

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    • What occurred to me this morning – re: “peeling back” – is the ways that Aldo Sax and others killed people – peeling them back in a 5-sided “tulip”-star… I wonder if Providence will set up that pattern established in The Courtyard… and it’s Black who gets peeled. We’ll see.

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  9. Nice, cheers.

    Ursa Minor = the key astral connection in Grantian Lovecraftian Crowleyanism, with polaris itself understood as the literal home of the old ones.Or something like that anyway, it’s never very clear.

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  10. aha right ok. thanks 🙂

    so… polaris peeping over alvarez’s place at the end there, making explicit the connection that RB is completely tied into this stuff the minute he steps into that room. (atm i am reading just the non-comic stuff again and a lot of what’s going to happen is prefigured in there too i reckon.)

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  11. I’m beginning to think that the “J. Edgar Hoover circus freak,” the shackled figure covered with the blanket, may possibly turn out to be our man, Robert Black.

    “PROVIDENCE Early discussions: “The path from Red Hook to Innsmouth potentially goes through the “J. Edgar Hoover circus freak” photo (image here – from The Courtyard #1, P22,p2) which could be one of the Deep Ones come to Red Hook from Innsmouth. Then I wonder how it all ends up getting to Providence, Rhode Island.”

    “PROVIDENCE #3 Page 19 panel 3-4: These panels are set in Providence‘s near future (see P18,p1 regarding Black’s dreams as prophesy.) The panel depicts Moore and Burrows version of J. Edgar Hoover‘s 1927-28 investigation into the events of Lovecraft’s “Innsmouth,” which take place nearly 10 years after Providence’s 1919. This scene is depicted in The Courtyard #1 P22,p2 (see image right) with Hoover in Salem/Innsmouth, though the town is not mentioned by name, but as “some backwater seaport in Massachusetts” whose name has been blacked out.”

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    • A couple of pretty pessimistic prognostications on poor Robert’s future right there. Clearly he’s already headed down the path to a cozy long-sleeve jacket at Arkham as his head fills with Aklo and encounters with Starry Wisdom.

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  12. I for one am looking at the geography as a signpost to where things are headed.

    Surely it’s all heading towards a climax at the titular Providence RI. That points to The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Haunter of the Dark, and possibly The Shunned House. CDW has been hinted at via Japheth Colwen, Shunned House via Roulet, and Haunter in the Dark via the “Starry Wisdom” cult. I for one am pretty convinced that “the stone” that was brung down is the Shining Trapezohedron, and Haunter of the Dark will be central to the finale and Black’s fate.

    Black is pretty obviously tied to the “Robert Blake” protagonist of that story (he was also an occult enthusiast and writer), who was in turn based on Bloch (Jewish, from Milwaukee). Blake meets his end in that story, and it was Lovecraft’s final story. Doubt it will go down exactly like that story, but I’ll agree Black’s headed to certain doom one way or the other.

    Will he investigate/stay in The Shunned House? maybe. I can see CDW fitting in a bit easier, but the fact that the titular house is based on that real location seems too good for Moore not to write it in knowing his research. I read or heard in some interview with Moore that Black will be in Boston for 7-8 (though I can’t think of any other Boston-set tales other than Pickman’s), which leaves 4 issues of unknown setting (two will probably be in RI).

    I’d be very surprised if we didn’t end up in Kingsport (AKA Marblehead) by #9. We may not see any more of The Terrible Old Man, but The Festival and The Strange High House in the Mist seem right up Robert Black’s alley. I could picture him explaining away either as yet another strange dream. Behind Arkham and Innsmouth, Kingsport was always the next-most well drawn recurring location to me.

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