Below are annotations for Neonomicon, No. 4 “The Lurker Within” (25 pages, February-March 2011)
Writer: Alan Moore, Artist: Jacen Burrows, based on works of H.P. Lovecraft
>Go to Moore Lovecraft annotations index
Note: some of this stuff is obvious, but you never know who’s reading this and what their exposure is. If there’s stuff we missed or got wrong, let us know in comments.
General: Agent Merril Brears surfaces in the ocean. She calls in an FBI SWAT team who dispatch with the cultists and the Deep One. Three months later Brears re-visits the imprisoned Aldo Sax.
- The cover image works mostly to avoids spoiling developments in the issue. It depicts presumably Agent Brears walking down a bloodstained tunnel that doesn’t quite match any site shown in the issue.
- The caption text is apparently Agent Brears recounting a dream – although it’s not clear when; possibly she blacked out before surfacing.
- The structure on the right is the dome over Salem, MA. For a general explanation of the city domes, see issue #1, P9,p4.
- Lovecraft lived with his aunts at 10 Barnes Street in Providence, both before and after his marriage, and from 1933 he and his surviving aunt Annie Gamwell lived at 66 College Street.
- Panels 1-4 are a fixed-camera sequence. The boat is slowly moving leftward.
- “He tells me he feels ugly” references that Lovecraft considered himself “homely.” (Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft 1.138)
- “He’s looking at me like he’s horrified” is probably a reference to the popular (but unwarranted) conception that the asexual Lovecraft was phobic about women and sex, although the image of a woman with a tentacle emerging from her vagina might put anyone off. This narrative makes an interesting narrative counterpoint with Aldo Sax’ reaction at the end of issue.
- Tentacles are infamously associated with creatures of the Cthulhu Mythos. Cthulhu himself is described as: “A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful.”
- The woman pictured is FBI Agent Merril Brears, protagonist of Neonomicon.
- There’s some symbolism her. Brears has escaped confinement – symbolically, she’s now outside the grid and dome of the city, and into the vastness of the ocean. The water perhaps (as in Jungian dream-interpretation) symbolizes the unconscious.
- Commenter jaxxup points out, “This is also a symbolic (re)birth for Brears. A new Brears – someone who connects with the Old Ones, has a purpose, is self-confident – was formed in a dark, confined place aka uterus, traveled unconsciously through a water-filled tunnel aka birth canal, then entered into the vast unknown of Nature.”
- The structure is the dome over Salem, MA. For a general explanation of the city domes, see issue #1, P9,p4.
- For readers unfamiliar with fishing, the wooden crate-like objects are lobster traps.
- The fisherman on the right is rolling a cigarette by hand.
- “Don’t just stand there looking at her” may be Moore showing the prevalence of sexism’s objectification of women extends to even to elderly men.
- An oilskin is a waterproof jacket typically worn by sailors and marine workers.
- Commenter alexxkay points out that this panel is a good example of a frequent Moore theme: though the story spends a lot of time dealing with astoundingly horrible people and events, ordinary humans are usually decent and kind. Even if Henry is a little slow off the mark.
- Brears is speaking with Carl Perlman, her FBI superior.
- Gordon is, of course, Gordon Lamper, killed in issue #2.
- S.W.A.T. stands for “Special Weapons And Tactics,” a specialized paramilitary police group which receives increased tactical training and equipment. In real life, the Salem, MA police department includes a SWAT unit, but it appears the FBI brought their own for this job.
- Title “The Lurker Within” is a reference to the Lovecraft-Derleth novel “The Lurker at the Threshold” and to Cthulhu gestating inside Brears. Cthulhu Mythos entities are typically described as coming from “outside” – as in “The Dunwich Horror”: “They from outside will help, but they cannot take body without human blood.”
- Whispers in Darkness is the store introduced in issue #2, P7-8.
- The flotation device says it belongs to the “Hetty” which is the name of one of Captain Obed Marsh ships in “The Shadow over Innsmouth.”
- The “tree branch” on the American flag is Lovecraft’s depiction of the Elder Sign, as depicted in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith in 1930 (Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft 3.216); this is as opposed to his description of an Elder Sign as a swastika in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” or as a kind of pentacle in Derleth’s fiction.
- Most of the book titles are unreadable, but there is a copy of the Necronomicon – apparently the Simon version, based on the sigil on the front – and works with “H. P. Lovecraft” and “Cthulhu” on the cover.
- Various Cthulhu plushes are commercially available; the ones depicted here are based on the Toy Vault model.
- The doll or figurine on the ground to the right of the register appears to be a Deep One, perhaps Mother Hydra based on the pendulous breast.
- Agent Fuller has red goggles, probably to help preserve his night vision in the darkened store, and a laser sight attachment; the other troopers have clear goggles and flashlights mounted to their weapons.
Beginning with P5,p1 and extending through P11,p4 (and again on Pages 14-15), Moore and Burrows adopt a page structure where panels alternate from the street outside the shop, and the FBI raid inside and below the shop. The sets up a sort of steady drumbeat pulse that pulls the reader quickly through most of the issue. The four-panel structure also echoes the layout of issue 1.
- On the left is Carl Perlman.
- Throughout Neonomicon, there is frequent use of “Jesus!” and other Christian swearing when agents are confronted with supernatural – perhaps a significant contrast. One person’s religion is another’s supernatural.
- The woman with the rifle is Joanie Beeks.
- Moore alludes to Lovecraft’s antisemitism with Beeks shouting “fucking Zionists… fucking Jews,” just as the other cultists reflected Lovecraft’s racism. Lovecraft’s views regarding Jews and Jewish religion were complicated (his wife, for example, was Jewish), too much so to go into great detail here, but the “Zionist” comment would seem to move this closer to contemporary antisemitism than an accurate reflection of Lovecraft’s feelings.
- “You’re not going to hurt him” refers to the Deep One.
- Perlman’s skepticism to Brears’ statement parallels his approach to Aldo Sax in issue 1; just as Sax did, Brears has gone through an extraordinary experience and now knows the truth, while Perlman still cannot accept it without evidence. This nicely encapsulates the gnosis of the Mythos, which readers participate in; being already familiar with the tropes of Lovecraft’s stories, and already familiar with the Mythos, readers sit back and observe as the characters in Cthulhu Mythos fiction stumble through their own encounters, watching and waiting as they are awakened to the knowledge of the Mythos. This knowledge clues them in to a larger world – Brears already knows what’s down there, but Perlman makes excuses because his worldview is too limited to admit such truths.
- “Beeks” is Leonard Beeks, the proprietor of Whispers in Darkness.
- Brears eyes are blue. She isn’t wearing her glasses, nor her contacts. Theoretically her vision should be fuzzy (as in issue #2) but seems pretty clear-headed and focused. Perhaps the Deep One’s baby she bears is already clarifying her vision. She also looks a little more attractive than she had in earlier issues, perhaps it’s just the lack of glasses, but it might be Cthulhu’s work, or the early “glow” of pregnancy.
- The civilian firing the gun is Duk Trinh, who appeared in issue #2.
- “Len” is Leonard Beeks.
- Fuller is shot by Duk Trinh.
- “It was some sort of…I don’t know. Throwback.” recalls, again from “Innsmouth,” how the Deep Ones and homo sapiens were once the same species but diverged; more generally it suggests Lovecraft’s favoring of atavisms in his fiction, such as “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” and “The Lurking Fear.”
Throwback most commonly means something less evolved, something from an earlier time. It is also a fishing term, though, more or less synonymous with catch-and-release (throwing back less desirable smaller fish so that they can grow to maturity.) This double-meaning may intentionally reinforce nautical elements – and could reference the FBI hunting the deep one, or even (the other way around) the deep one releasing Brears.
panel 1, panel 3
- “It was the other way around” implies H.P. Lovecraft was mimicking these cultists’ stuff. Brears is very conclusive, very certain here. This contrasts her earlier more tentative speculations, each trailing off in ellipses. In issue #2, P6,p4 Brears states “Although, if they didn’t base their rackets on his [Lovecraft’s] story, maybe he based his… Nah. Nah, forget I said anything.” In issue #3, P22,p2-3 Brears states “I mean, you [Deep One] can’t have heard of Lovecraft, so… Uh…” and “…so unless Lovecraft had heard of you, then… what?”
In the world of Neonomicon, apparently Lovecraft found out about the Deep Ones, and other aspects Cthulhu Mythos, and he based his fictions on them – a fairly popular twist on the Mythos. Brears confirms this in panel 3, stating “Lovecraft, he used to ferret out odd facts from all over the place…”
- Lovecraft wrote “The Call of Cthulhu” in 1926 (although it wasn’t published until 1928). He wrote about elements of the setting in previous stories, but Cthulhu is not mentioned until 1926.
- The SWAT team is passing more of the crude drawings on the wall; the crowned eye with the three tentacles below it is highly reminiscent of the inverted-pentacle-eye-with-tentacles symbol on the inside front cover, and which has been a recurring element in the various Neonomicon covers.
- “It all seems so obvious, looking back, how all the little random decisions and events build up until…” There’s some implication here that some force – perhaps Cthulhu – has been grooming Brears since well before issue #1, in order to steer her life into becoming the mother of Cthulhu. The “fate” she refers to could be the unseen hand of Cthulhu steering events in Brears’ life. Commenter alexxkay notes that this begins to touch on Moore’s conceptions of time as a four-dimensional solid (see quotes in annotations for Providence #2 P31.) All of time has “already happened”. It also compares to the end of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, where humans learn to think outside their narrow conceptions of time.
- Confirmed on P9,p2 below, this is the body of Agent Gordon Lamper, shot in the head in issue #2.
- The small pale things appear to be maggots, which are often a natural part of decomposition. Lovecraft, probably inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Conqueror Worm,” wrote in “The Festival”:For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.”
- Fuller was the one shot by Duk Trinh in P6,p2.
- The image on the wall is more clearly a Deep One than in previous depictions.
- The injured man is Pete Hendrik, who appeared in issue #2. The cultists are being killed by the Deep One.
- “Orgone energy” is explained in issue #2, P16,p1.
- Perlman’s prosthetic hand is explained in issue #1, P11,p2. See also P11,p1 below.
- The rip in Hendrik’s abdomen was made by claws; this can be seen more clearly on the next page, in panel 2.
- Perlman’s prosthetic hand (hidden this issue until page 10) is prominent here. With his head not shown, Perlman appears pretty much like the “some kind of monster suit” he is describing. Perlman is kind of a monster, as shown by his having taken sexual advantage of Brears, a subordinate employee of his (see issue #1, P13,p3.) Perlman’s hand was cut off by Aldo Sax, who will soon re-enter the story – see P19 below.
- The “monster suit” is probably a reference to The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and related films.
- AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a consequence of infection with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), which is typically transmitted sexually. Significant advances in medicine in the 20th century have seen the cure or control of other sexually-transmitted diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea, but HIV/AIDS acquired a legendary standing in the 1980s and 90s as “incurable.”
- Brears closes her eyes, turning inward (where Cthulhu is), and lies in order to protect her child.
- The dead woman is “that Vietnamese guy’s wife” Mai Trinh, who appeared in issue #2.
- The transition from P11,p4 to P12,p1 is a page-turn reveal, used by Alan Moore frequently in Crossed Plus One Hundred, and elsewhere. Agent Barstow sees the Deep One here, her gaze leading off the page. The reader doesn’t see what she’s seeing until the next page.
- A minor discrepancy here; in issue #2, P16 – Burrows included the same number of layers of blocks, but the height of the blocks has changed, so the door appears to be a full set of blocks taller.
- The creature is, of course, the Deep One, who appears throughout issues #2 and #3. He has just decapitated Leonard Beeks, whose leg he holds, and killed Charley who lies on the deck in the foreground. The other body is presumably Barb Hendrik – although the angle is weird, so she doesn’t appear as hefty as her last appearance, the figure appears to have breasts, longer hair (spreading out in the water beneath her) and is the only Dagon cultist not yet accounted for.
- The ligature marks (parallel blood stains) show that the body was dragged into the pool.
- The Deep One’s blood is red, just as with humans.
- Pages 14 and 15 resume the alternating above and below from P5-11, though with a few differences. The entire sequence is wordless, perhaps to emphasize the quietness now that the cultists and Deep One are dead. Unlike the earlier sequence, P15 begins underground (where P5-11 all begin above ground.) Moore and Burrows employ a zoom sequence in the underground panels (P14,p1 and p3, then P15, p2 and p4) with the orientation.
- The two threads converge as Brears is reflected in the Deep One’s eye in p4 on P15.
- P14, p2 features a black cat, possibly referring to Lovecraft’s black cat from “The Rats in the Walls,” based on an actual black cat he used to have as a pet as a child. Pointed out by commenter Carson, a black cat appears in issues #1 (P17,p4), #3 (P14,p1), and #4 (P14,p2).
- Perhaps as a visual pun, the reflection of Brears and Perlman in the mirror-like round eye of the dead or dying Deep One is typical of a “fisheye” lens.
- “Three months later” is the only narrative caption in Neonomicon. It’s the only break of more than a day or so between any of the panels or issues.
- The location is Agent Brears’ home. The voice (through P17,p1) is Carl Perlman leaving a message on a telephone answering machine, somewhat rare in 2015, but not out of place in the 2006 setting here.
- The picture on the wall appears to be of Brears’ college graduation; the sash would indicate the conferring of a master’s degree. Recalls Brears’ statement that she studied Lovecraft in college, setting up the next stage.
- Brears is on leave from the FBI since the incidents depicted up to P15 above.
- On the wall are two framed diplomas, probably confirming Brears has both a bachelor and a master’s degree.
- Brears has been reading a lot while on leave. Books with legible titles include:
- “The Hashish Man [and other stories]” by Lord Dunsany – Lord Dunsany was a formative influence on Lovecraft
- “The Three Imposters” by Arthur Machen – Another important influence on Lovecraft. Interestingly, the key-design appears to be an Aubrey Beardsley design from the “Keynote series,” indicating this is a first edition.
- “The Magical Revival” by Kenneth Grant – Grant’s first major occult work to incorporate Lovecraft into his magickal system.
- “The Necronomicon” – Probably intended to be the Simon recension.
- “Robert Howard : Pigeons from Hell” – Robert E. Howard was a friend and correspondent of Lovecraft’s, and an early contributor to the Cthulhu Mythos, “Pigeons from Hell” is one of his non-Mythos horror stories.
- “The King in Yellow” by Robert W. Chambers – Another influence on Lovecraft, particularly in the way Chambers’ borrowed and used Hastur and Carcosa from Ambrose Bierce, as mentioned by Brears in issue #2.
- The scene is repeated on P17, panels 3-4, forming a fixed-camera sequence.
- “I’m not trying to get into your pants” refers to Carl Perlman’s earlier affair with Brears, which he attempted to re-kindle in issue #1, P13,p3.
- The only book with a legible title is “H. P. Lovecraft: A Life” by S. T. Joshi – Probably the definitive biography of Lovecraft available at the time Neonomicon was written, though Joshi would go on to release the much-expanded I Am Providence in 2010.
- Brear’s manuscript on the left is titled “The Unnameable: Sex and Sexuality in the Works of H.P. Lovecraft by Merril Brears” – again, referencing her work on Lovecraft in college, this would appear to be a bound master’s thesis. “The Unnameable” was a story by Lovecraft.
- Brears’ handwritten page is an excerpt from Chamber’s “The King In Yellow.” It reads:
“Along the shore, the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen
CAMILLA: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda). No mask? No mask!”
- This panel and panel 4 below repeat the view shown on P16,p3.
- Though the image is the same, the action is the reverse of P16,p3. Instead of Brears receiving a call, she’s making a call.
- Aldo Sax appeared in The Courtyard and Neonomicon #1, where he was imprisoned in the Haven Secure Psychiatric Institute.
- The word balloon “Aldo Sax” extends into the lower comics gutter. In a number of places in Neonomicon (see issue #1 P7,p2 and P24,p3 and issue #2 P6,p4) extending into the gutter indicates some outside-the-box awareness of the Cthulhu world.
- This page echoes the entry sequence in issue #1, P4-5. Though the earlier sequence took place at night, this one by day perhaps symbolizing Brears’ initiation – no longer “in the dark.”
- The Sax – Haven Institute – womb sequences appear at the beginning and end of Neonomicon, giving it a sort of palindrome symmetry.
- The same guard and nurse from issue 1.
- The man on the left is Aldo Sax, protagonist of The Courtyard, whom Brears and Lamper interviewed in issue #1.
- Panel 1 and two form a fixed-camera sequence.
- Sax speaks Aklo, see explanation issue #1 P6,p3.
- “Mglw’nafh” is from the phrase “Ph‘nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah‘nagl fhtagn” in “The Call of Cthulhu.”
- “Gharne” is an ancient, prehuman city in Africa in the Cthulhu Mythos fiction of Brian Lumley.
- “Shub Niggurath” is a fertility deity in the Cthulhu Mythos created by H. P. Lovecraft.
- Though Brears has parrotted Aklo (see issue #2 P10,p3) this is the first time she’s actually speaking it.
- “Dho-hna” and “Wza-Y’ei” are among the Aklo that Carcosa gives Sax in The Courtyard, see #2 Pages 13-15. Dho-hna was the term the Deep One used to describe Brears’ pregnancy in issue #3, P22,p3.
- “Ph’nglui wgah’nagl” is from the phrase “Ph‘nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah‘nagl fhtagn” in “The Call of Cthulhu.”
- “Yuggoth” – A hypothetical planet at the edge of the solar system postulated by Lovecraft as the home of the Mi-Go; identified with the recently-discovered dwarf planet Pluto.
- “Glaaki” is a Cthulhu Mythos entity in the fiction of Ramsey Campbell.
- Sax’s expression goes from threatening to timid, upon hearing Brears’ Aklo.
- “You know how it is.” – While we never learn exactly how the cultists drugged Brears, this suggests at least part of the cocktail was “the white powder” from The Courtyard, which as associates of Johnny Carcosa, they would likely have had access to. Like Sax, Brears has undergone an initiatory experience involving drugs; in fact, her ordeal underground probably more closely mirrors a traditional initiation than Sax’ experience.
- “Gargouille de la mer” is French, translating to more-or-less “gargoyle of the sea” another term for a Deep One, although apparently original to Moore.
- P20, p3-4 and P21, p1 form a fixed-camera sequence, highlighting Sax’s rapt expressions and Brear’s steadiness.
- Sax, who earlier “carved people into tulips” becomes squeamish and looks away when Brears talks about sex and urination, highlighting his discomfort with sexuality.
- “I mean, I’m not queer or anything.” – Lovecraft, due to his asexual nature, has been speculated to have been homosexual (despite his vehement dislike of homosexuality in his letters); Sax, as the stand-in for a Lovecraftian protagonist, is embodying the negative stereotypes of Lovecraft and his fiction, just as the cultists had.
- “I’m the psycho… you’re the Jodie Foster role” refers directly to the movie The Silence of the Lambs. In the film, the actress Jodie Foster plays FBI Agent Clarice Starling, who interviews jailed psychotic serial killer Hannibal Lecter (who Lamper mentioned in issue #1, P8,p4.)
- “Yr nhhngr” is the third Aklo word that Carcosa gives Sax in The Courtyard.
- “The Great Old Ones ‘were, are, and shall be'” – in reference to “The Dunwich Horror” where Lovecraft wrote: “The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be.”
- “Leng” is a plateau from Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath – a location problematic for many readers and authors since it seems to exist in both the real world and the Dreamlands. Moore neatly solves this problem by making Leng not a physical plateau, but a mathematical one.
- The image itself is a rendering of Brears and Sax (sans clothes) in four-dimensional space – as if every moment of time was a three-dimensional “snapshot” superimposed on each other, similar in effect to time-lapse photography.
- There is an Alan Moore antecedent that describes a similar image. In Chapter IV of the “Allan and the Sundered Veil” (a partially-Lovecraftian text story which appeared as a back-up in the first six issues of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics) Allan Quatermain knocks a Morlock creature off of a time-machine platform and as it falls away:
“as he [Quatermain] watched the bleached corpse fall away from him, he saw that it was undergoing what could only be described as a repellent and unnatural blossoming. What seemed a thousand heads, four thousand limbs and countless fingers sprouted in a solid and organic after-trail behind the tumbling sub-man, so that it became an elongated, almost centipedal shape, twisting grotesquely in upon itself as it retreated […] It was almost as if every moment, every slice of the Morlock’s trajectory were carved in space behind it as it spiraled away through the fourth dimension’s awesome and eternal Now, that constant and unending hyper-moment in which all creation and the terrible and fathomless abyss of history were contained.”
- The panel borders, which are elsewhere rough hand-drawn lines, become perfect straight lines around this panel and the next. This reflects the Cthulu existing on a higher, clearer plane of existence. Similar straight line panel borders appear during Brear’s R’lyeh sequence in issue #3 Pages 5-9.
- Straight line panel border continues from p4 above.
- Brears sees Leng and Johnny Carcosa “in my dreams” – the intial one we know if being the R’lyeh sequence in issue #3 Pages 5-9.
- Nyarlathotep – From Lovecraft’s fiction, discussed in issue #3, P8,p3.
- “Thoth” was the Egyptian god of knowledge, “Hermes” was the messenger of the Greek gods; both were messengers of a sort. Likewise, both have a place in hermetic occult literature (the very word “Hermetic” comes from “Hermes”); the two gods were conflated as Hermes Trismegistus, the mythical founder of the Western occult tradition.
- In Brears’ dreams, Carcosa speaks this phrase ‘What this is, is you’re a nun, see, Asian Merry?” Carcosa said this to Brears earlier (see explanation in issue #3, P7,p3.) If, as Brears states (as Moore hints), you repeat it a few times, you get “What this is is your annunciation, Mary.” The Annunciation, in Christian tradition, is when the angel Gabriel appears to tell the virgin Mary that she will conceive a child who is the son of God. Carcosa is analogous to the angel Gabriel. Merril is Mary. She will bear the god-like child of the Deep One.
- “I understood why the thing [the Deep One] had sniffed my pee” describes issue #3, P21, where the Deep One examines Brears’ urine to determine she is pregnant.
- “I understood where R’lyeh must be…” i.e. Brears’ womb.
- Brears’ mind is being influenced by Cthulhu in her womb.
- “We’re pretty much vermin” is a reflection of Lovecraft’s misanthropy.
- Burrows has drawn a slight bulge in Brears’ belly to indicate her pregnancy. He was careful up until this point to avoid showing Brears’ midsection at all, to save the revelation for last.
- “I think I felt him writhe… down there in R’lyeh” – More indication that R’lyeh is in Brears’ womb.
- “A book of new names” – A pun based on the fact that the Hay Necronomicon was subtitled “The Book of Dead Names,” and of books of baby names that many parents buy and consult. The combination, however, explains the title Neonomicon – using the false etymology of Necronomicon, necro (dead) is replaced with neo (new); again, a very clever revelation.
- Panels 3 and 4 constitute a zoom sequence, focusing in on Brears belly, where Cthulhu waits dreaming.
- “I got no problems with my self-esteem” Contrast Brears’ transition vs. Sax’s, as well as Brears’ issues with her sex addiction. She has finally come to terms with herself.
- “Strange aeons” – From Lovecraft’s famous couplet “…and with strange aeons, even death, may die.”
- “It’s the end” Brears is referring to the end of all her “other bullshit” but it’s a pun, also referring to the end of the Neonomicon story.
- The final page exactly repeats the text and image on the opening page of Neonomicon. It depicts the cthulhu’s view from inside of Brear’s womb, with the umbilical cord in the lower right. See full explanation issue #1, Page 1.
- This is probably Brears’ voice – continuing from where she left off in the panel 4 of page 24.