Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Book-A-Day 2018 #367: Calla Cthulhu. Vol. 1 by Dorkin, Dyer & Humiston

I have to believe the name came first. Maybe semi-serious, maybe entirely as a joke. But someone said "Doesn't Call o' Cthulhu sound like a girl's name?" and it all went on from there.

In the end, it's not quite that on-the-nose -- the green-haired teen on the cover of Calla Cthulhu, Vol. 1 is actually named Calla Tafali. But she is descended from the Great Old One who lies dreaming in R'lyeh. [1] And she is being urged, rather strongly, to join the family business. (By her "Uncle Hastur," the fellow in the yellow mask at lower left.)

So, yes, Calla Cthulhu is a YA coming-of-age action-adventure story set in the Cthulhu Mythos, with the usual kid who rejects her evil heritage in favor of goodness and awesomeness and niceness. It's a little bit like a Lovecraftian-flavored distaff version of Hellboy, aimed squarely at a teen audience. This first volume collects the first four issues -- or maybe episodes, since it was originally published on-line, and the panels are reproduced larger here than I expected.

Since those panels are large, and there are fewer of them on the page than you might expect, Calla Cthulhu has less story than you'd expect from a book of 250ish pages -- the "action-adventure" aspect also adds to that, since fight scenes take more time and page-space than long scenes of talking heads droning on about things that are squamous or rugose or possibly both. (Note: Calla contains quite a bit of the former but none of the latter.)

The four episodes here are just enough to introduce Calla, give us her origin, and set up the opponents/family and some potential allies in her battle to keep humanity sane and alive. Her origin has the usual tragedy, and actually explains how her hair turned green. (It doesn't seem to be as tentacle-like in the actual story as on the cover, but maybe that's a power-up she hasn't entirely unlocked yet.) She also has a spooky old ancestral house, because all of the Old Gods need to have a pad in town, dig?

(Narrator: None of the other Old Gods have a pad in town.)

It's hard for me to say if the impetus behind Calla Cthulhu was silly, cynical, or honest -- it's such a high concept that it makes me suspicious, but it's all done straightforwardly and directly here, without any winks to the reader. I'm not sure if Lovecraftian ideas are that embedded in the culture that you can just use them in a YA story like this and expect a large audience of actual young people will recognize and accept them, but young people are probably smarter and more genre-savvy than I'm giving them credit for.

If you do know the Mythos, and are interested in a story about a spunky teen girl trying not to live up to her destiny, Calla Cthulhu does the job nicely. It's smart enough about its tropes in the writing (by Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer) and has a clean webcomics look from artist Erin Humiston. It might be dead, though: the thirteen episodes to date on the webcomics platform Stela seem to have been reconfigured into the four chapters of this book and the website hasn't been updated since launch in 2016. So there's a bit of a caveat there: if you want the beginning of a story that will possibly never go any further, check it out.

[1] The book does not explain how, and perhaps it's best not to try to envision what kind of matings would lead to a human child of human parents whose distant ancestor is a sea-dwelling space monster made of tentacles. That's not the genre of this story, at least....

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