What is Miskatonic?
Miskatonic Valley holds many mysteries – cultists worshipping old gods, a doctor deadset on resurrecting the recently deceased, a house overrun by rats in the walls – but none more recent than a series of bombings targeting the Valley’s elite.
To Bureau of Investigation (the predecessor of the FBI) chief J. Edgar Hoover, there can be no other explanation than those responsible for similar actions during the Red Scare of the 1920s. But when the brilliant, hard-nosed investigator Miranda Keller is sent to stop the bombings, she uncovers an unimaginable occult conspiracy, one that may cost her both her job and her sanity.
From writer Mark Sable (WAR ON TERROR: GODKILLERS, Graveyard of Empires) and artist Giorgio Pontrelli (Dylan Dog), MISKATONIC is a mix of historical crime fiction and Lovecraftian-horror that dives deep into the American nightmare.
MISKATONIC by Mark Sable is an indie comic book I stumbled upon by accident. Lovecraft has a somewhat sketchy history with adaptations of his work to comic books with Alan Moore’s Providence and a few others that had issues to say the least. However, there was something about the cover that lured me in. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover but that is frequently the deciding factor in a purchase, and I was immediately drawn in by the fantastic depiction of agent Miranda Keller on the front.
The premise is Miranda Keller is one of the few remaining female agents in the Bureau of Investigation when J. Edgar Hoover takes over. In real life, J. Edgar Hoover inherited two female agents as well as promoted one to agent status. He also fired those two female agents and the one he promoted eventually quit. The notoriously racist and sexist director serves as an interesting foil for the opening of the story. Miranda knows that Hoover doesn’t want her, and she has no future in her chosen profession but he’s willing to give her one last case as a going away present: investigate the murder of a upper class citizen in Miskatonic Valley, Massachusetts.
Miranda joins up with Detective Malone from The Horror of Red Hook, who is a traumatized and racist protagonist who continuously warns our heroine of messing with forces that mankind does not understand. He’s an interesting character because while an ally of Miranda and well-intentioned, his beliefs are so repellent to both our heroine as well as the reader that he is as much an obstacle as a help. Unfortunately, there are many places in 1920s America where a white male is necessary to get any traction whatsoever.
What follows is basically a sort of comic book version of Forrest Gump crossed with the Cthulhu Mythos. Miranda’s investigation basically takes her through a large portion of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories as they’re happening with The Shadow over Innsmouth, The Dunwich Horror, The Thing on the Doorstep, Herbert West: Reanimator, and a few other tales. Miranda is initially hesitant to accept the reality of the supernatural but increasingly finds herself pressing forward, even in the face of the Mythos, just because she refuses to be intimidated into quitting.
Miranda is a fantastic protagonist and I absolutely love her hard-nosed edge as well as determination as well as love of justice. Miranda keeps most of her feelings bottled up that she remains a mystery throughout circumstances that would have forced most Lovecraft protagonists into a quivering wreck. While this is a low bar to clear, she’s also a comic book heroine mercifully free of cheesecake. Miranda is also at least partially queer, responding well to Asenath Waite’s advances but perhaps not as deeply as her homophobic partner suspects.
Miskatonic is a comic that benefits from familiarity with HP Lovecraft’s stories but works well even if you don’t know the original material. Indeed, I think the author may have slightly overdone the references, but I enjoyed the story a great deal anyway. I especially liked the inclusion of Azenath Waite, who becomes a femme fatale who attempts (semi-successfully) to seduce Miranda over to her side.
The art of Miskatonic is fantastic and the writing is great. I find it a shame that this comic was a standalone with only one short sequel in Miskatonic: Death May Day. I would have gladly read an ongoing starring these characters. Malone is a terrible person, but he’s interestingly flawed and plays well against Miranda. So, if you want a nice PG-13 comic that interacts well with Lovecraft’s mythos as well as addresses the racism but is not dominated by it, then this is the comic for you.