(Titan Books, �14.99)

ALAN Moore is dead. That is, the greatest comics writer of the 20th century appears to have shuffled off this mortal coil and been replaced by someone with the same name who seems to have forgotten all of the basics of story construction, and instead prefers to dump information on his audience as if delivering a lecture, mixed in with a perverse pleasure in portraying some of the most extreme sexual depravity I have ever seen in more than three decades of reading comics.

Purporting to offer an innovative and challenging new look at the work of horror writer HP Lovecraft of recent years, it was actually written to help Moore pay off a tax bill, which says a lot for his attitude in writing it.

The story is effectively a framing device for Moore to reveal his theories on the nature of the Great Old Ones – the crawling, multi-tentacled entities featured in Lovecraft’s pulp horror stories – as cocksure but relatively undefined FBI agents Brears and Lamper investigate ritual murders linked to the last case of former golden boy Aldo Sax, now a convicted killer imprisoned in a maximum security installation.

This is Moore in full-on magician mode, a persona which was previously evident in the multi-dimensional journey which was Promethea, effectively a guide to his magickal beliefs in comic book form. Here we have Moore educating his audience about Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos with chunks of explanatory dialogue which seem uncomfortably flowery and pompous, something rarely experienced with his other publications, and which frequently jar the reader out of the narrative.

Make no mistakes, this is not a graphic novel for anyone of a nervous disposition, with a liberal use of extreme sexual images and savagely brutal violence, and Moore holds nothing back, assisted by the detailed illustrations of series artist Jacen Burrows, suggesting he’s looking to shock as much as educate. But one expects so much more from the creative genius behind the likes of V For Vendetta, Miracleman, Swamp Thing, Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and any theories Moore may be trying to put across are lost amidst a swathe of racism and rape.

By reflecting the attitudes of Lovecraft the man, Moore does not shy away from his bigotry and misanthropy, which makes for uncomfortable reading through an excessive use of certain derogatory terms, and yet even that doesn’t really compare to explicitly revealing Special Agent Brears being systematically raped by some sort of fish-monster for almost two whole issues out of the four collected here.

It’s almost as if Moore was looking for an excuse to show these scenes in print, and revelled in portraying them. It’s unnecessarily graphic, and adds very little to the overall story beyond highlighting the truly twisted nature of a Dagon cult operating beneath the streets of the seaside town of Innsmouth, something which could have been achieved through implied horror, rather than showing it unfold on page after page.

However, the reality here is not that Alan Moore enjoys writing about cross-species sexual abuse, it’s more the fact that this is a remarkably sub-par piece of schlock from one of comics’ greatest creative talents. There may be some interesting and valid points Moore is making here about the nature of the Lovecraft mythos and the Great Old Ones’ place in our reality, but they are lost amid the endless scenes of gratuitous sexual depravity.

Apparently Alan Moore is now in semi-retirement from comics. On the basis of this piece of filth, the sooner he gives up for good the better.