Generally, I balk at anything that is either set in the grim-dark 1920s, or applies the term “Lovecraftian” to itself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the Lovecraftian universe, but it’s been done to death in recent years, and there is only so much I can handle, when it comes to mysterious elder god cults. But, when a comic is set in the 1920s, describes itself as Lovecraftian and happens to be written by Jonathan Hickman, I damn well buy it because I am officially on the Hickman bandwagon.
The Black Monday Murders, Hickman’s latest trip, promises to tell the true story of the stock market crash of 1929, and how it continues to affect the present. The story posits that it wasn’t mere human error and greed, but rather dark, magical forces at play. As such, it feels unfair to label it “Lovecraftian,” because this is unabashedly about devil worship. Specifically, the worship of one of the seven princes of hell, and the avatar of greed and avarice, Mammon.
The story already has some intriguing layers laid out: wealthy satanists who are clearly pulling the strings, an unsuspecting populace, and the implication that Mammon will not be the silent god of oh-so-many “dark god” stories. One of my biggest complaints in most “Lovecraftian” stories is that the gods worshipped are often more of an idea than a character or being. From the initial pages, it’s clear that Mammon has more of a role than some of the human characters.
The best part of this is that the issue deftly balances between establishing its own unique world and lore — complete with an express set of rules — while moving the story forward and setting the bait for future issues. It knows when to back off from the world-building tone, while laying a very clear and solid foundation. His casual references to the Black Pope, chair-holders and famous scholars has a sense of reassurance that all will be explained in due time. Which is the perfect way to start such a tale.
(As an aside, I can’t help but feel as though Hickman’s tongue is firmly in cheek, though, with the idea of the stock market being run by dark magic, brewed and churned by a literal demon lord.)
Having said all of that, The Black Monday Murders is not an easy read. The story itself is heavy, and delightfully dense, and it is laden with Hickman’s beloved charts. Presented as a type of running journal or case file, it’s laden with memos, hierarchy charts, and forum posts, all of which are presented in courier font. Why does the font matter? Because reading dense clusters of courier on your phone can prove to be difficult, some times. It’s worth it — oh so very worth it — but this is not a light and fluffy tale.
It’s the type of horror-crime-noir that we’ve come to know and love from Ed Brubaker (Fatale and The Fade Out, most notably), and I’m ecstatic that Hickman is working in the genre. Better yet, that he’s managing to bring that early-20th century feel to the current day. His fantastic East of West was one of my favorite series when it debuted, three years ago, and if this first issue is an indicator, he is quite capable outside of the sci-fi role.
As such, if Hickman’s previous works haven’t grabbed you, I’m not sure The Black Monday Murders will be the title that does. It’s a heavy read, but one that promises to do some some delightfully dark roads. Plus, with an initial issue that feels more like a novella than an introductory issue, it’s an amazing jump out of the gates … of hell.