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Robert Black and Company

"There is a concealed country, therefore, hidden below the society we show the world. Uncomfortable truth, it lurks behind our pretences. This truth, it is a land sunken beneath many fathoms."
Dr. Alvarez
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Providence is a 2015 12-Issue series by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows. It is published by Avatar Press.

Reporter and aspiring novelist Robert Black works for the New York Herald Tribune. One day in June 1919, he is asked to write a fluff piece for the newspaper, and uses it as a chance to meet Dr. Alvarez, whose literary criticism had impressed him. This meeting, coupled with personal tragedy, sends Black on a quest of introspection and self-journey. He decides that he will write that novel he wanted to write and quits his job to follow some leads investigating the Order of the Stella Sapiente and the mysterious Booke of the Wisdom of the Stars. The quest takes him to the heart of New England and brings him into contact with a gallery of interesting and sinister figures. Robert slowly spirals into the heart of a bigger mystery than anything he ever imagined, and the scope of the mystery slowly takes a hold on his sanity.

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The book is a Sequel and Prequel to Neonomicon and The Courtyard (both were collaborations with Jacen Burrows). Providence is vastly more ambitious in its scope and intent. It is simultaneously a Homage to H. P. Lovecraft, a Sidelong Glance Biopic of the writer himself, as well as a Deconstruction and a Reconstruction of Lovecraft Country. Moore has stated that Providence is his most heavily researched work since From Hell and that Providence is going to become "my ultimate Lovecraft story".


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Tropes in Providence.

  • Adaptational Villainy: The original Pickman in Lovecraft's story, while an arrogant and generally unpleasant person, merely photographed ghouls and painted them. Ronald Pitman on the other hand, while more mild-mannered and pleasant than his short story counterpart, is a Serial Killer who willingly gives the ghouls victims to feast upon.
  • Adorkable: Robert Black is this, quite often. Lovecraft himself proves to be this, sharing Black's shyness in approaching Lord Dunsany for an autograph but more than a little pleased to meet someone who has actually read his story and shares some of his interest. The two of them hit it off, and Black promises to visit HP at Providence, Rhode Island.
  • Affably Evil: So far almost all the supposedly evil and unsavory characters from Lovecraft's stories that Robert Black has crossed paths with, have been nothing but polite, friendly, and helpful with his book project. Even Hector North is a charming flirt, despite apparently intending to kill him. The only exceptions are Willard Wheatley, who is rude and begrudging, and Edgar Wade, who is such a colossal jerk that he's disliked by Garland Wheatley and Tobit Boggs.
    • Even the ghouls can be charming and kind in their own macabre way, despite eating people. King George compliments Robert's red hair, pities him for falling foul of the Wades, and is sad that Robert isn't happy. So he tries to cheer him up by telling him that even unhappy people are enjoyed once they are dead, when the ghouls eat their bodies.
  • Alternate Universe: Although the books are heavily researched and intended to take place in Like Reality Unless Noted early 20th Century New York, the series as a whole features much like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen a world where fictitious events occur. The "suicide booths" prophesied by Robert W Chambers are regarded and treated as a reality.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Robert Black is still in the closet in an era where that was the norm. Whenever he meets another man he suspects to be gay, they have to use contemporary slang and oblique references to suss out the other's preference, such as the wearing of a green tie. Though the minute he sees Tom Malone, he comes close to giving himself away.
    • Dr North heavily implies his sexuality when flirting with Black, recognising him as a man "familiar with Greenwich".
    • Averted with Howard Charles, as he and Robert quickly flirt and then have a tryst.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Robert Black is the descendant of Jewish immigrants but has attempted to pass himself off as WASP to better fit in.
  • Anachronic Order: Issue 11, starts out telling the story of Robert Black's return from New England to New York but the plot has a lot of flash-forwards and Time Skip showing future events.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: Lovecraft himself talks with excessively antiquated terms, even for 1919, making him as hard to understand as Willard. Japheth Colwen does the same, indicating that he has possessed Charles Howard.
  • Applicability: invoked In-Universe. After seeing Pitman's paintings, Robert Black puts on his amateur art critic hat and theorizes ghouls/zombies and other beings as metaphors for middle-class fears of class uprising. Pitman notes that he's never seen things that way but Sure, Let's Go with That.
  • Arc Welding: The Stella Sapiente and its offshoots are the most obvious examples of tying together all of Lovecraft's stories (more so than they all ready were), but then there are more exact instances of this trope, like how the Shining Trapezohedron from "The Haunter of the Dark" doubles as the meteor that caused the events of "The Colour Outof Space".
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Alvarez asks one to Robert Black and then gives a speech about the truth buried underneath America:
    Dr. Alvarez: There is a concealed country, therefor, hidden below the society we show the world. Uncomfortable truth, it lurks behind our pretences. This truth, it is a land sunken beneath many fathoms. Were it one day to rise and confront us all, what would you do, Mr. Black? What would any of us do?
  • Art Shift: Pitman's photographs are actual photographs scanned, altered and placed into the comicbook. This effectively mimics the shocking reveal of the photograph from the original "Pickman's Model".
  • The Beard: Jonathan Russell is referred by Robert Black as "Lily" in his journal entries because he's deeply in the closet. In his fever dream, Robert free-associates Prissy Turner with the altered Jonathan / Lily and treats her as his beard.
  • Bigger Bad: The unseen "secret chief" of Stella Sapiente, who appears to be Nyarlathotep judging by Johnny Carcosa's mother's presence within his room at Saint John's church.
  • Biography à Clef: Providence is essentially a biography of the cultural and political context that underpinned H. P. Lovecraft's fiction. The way it achieves this is by having Lovecraft's creations (The Old Ones, Nyarlathothep, the Church of Starry Wisdom) more or less guide its author towards creating them, with his entire life (recreated quite accurately in the comic) secretly being manipulated and ordered to this end.
  • Body Surf: One of the four methods of immortality as outlined in Hali's Book. It is also the choice taken by Edgar Wade who is currently occupying his daughter Elspeth Wade's body and who is actually the 15th Century Huguenot Etienne Roulet who has been doing Grand Theft Me across the centuries. He can do this at will, and demonstrates this to Robert Black when he hijacks his body, and puts him in little Elspeth's body and essentially uses Robert Black's own body to rape him.
  • Breather Episode: Subverted in issue 8. Robert at first has a pleasant time, spending weeks with Carter and his only supernatural episode lacking danger in the most part. But then he meets Lovecraft by chance and the reader realises that the end of the world has begun.
    • Issue 9 is lighter as well, serving as a calmer (although still eerie) beginning to the final act of the story. Robert mentions that it's his most pleasant part of the journey so far: having pleasant conversation, touring Providence, and even getting laid.
  • Broken Pedestal: Robert Black's friendship and camarderie with Lovecraft cools down sharply when the latter voices homophobic and anti-semitic statements.
  • But Not Too Gay: In the Commonplace Book, Robert notes that he would ideally like to talk about the secret world of America's gay life but coat it in a metaphor that would be broad enough to get the same idea across. This is why he is drawn towards the occult and the Stella Sapiente since he finds a parallel to his own situation in the survival and maintenance of an occult tradition in WASP-America.
  • The Cameo: Johnny Carcosa's mother appears in issues 2 and 9, suggesting Nyarlathotep is interested in Robert's journey.
  • Canon Welding: Much like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Moore is using Lovecraft's fiction to merge different stories and events into a single coherent verse. This includes Cool Air, The Horror at Red Hook, The Shadow over Innsmouth, The Dunwich Horror, The Color Out of Space, The Dreams at the Witch-House, The Thing on the Doorstep, Pickman's Model, The Haunter of the Dark, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and the Randolph Carter stories.
  • Captain Ersatz: Most Lovecraft characters, as well as locations such as Arkham, are renamed. The exceptions so far are Robert Suydam and Thomas Malone from The Horror at Red Hook. Moore is not dealing with copyright issues, as Lovecraft has lapsed into public domain (as shown by Cthulhu commonly appearing in horror work). Instead it appears that Moore is suggesting that in-universe Lovecraft took the characters and locations depicted and wrote about them in his stories, merely changing their names. However Moore could not do this with Suydam and Malone as they were already named in Neonomicon, so he used their original Lovecraftian names.
    • Doctor Muñoz from Cool Air is Dr. Alvarez, Obed Marsh from Innsmouth is Jack Boggs and the Marsh Refinery is likewise renamed as the Boggs Refinery. The Whatelys from "The Dunwich Horror" are now the Wheatleys. Dr. Herbert West becomes Dr. Hector North, Asenath and Ephraim Waite become Elspeth and Edgar Wade, Keziah Mason becomes Hezekiah Massey, Richard Upton Pickman is Ronald Underwood Pitman and Randolph Carter is now Randall Carver. The Church of Starry Wisdom becomes the Order of Stella Sapiente.
    • In the case of locations, Moore simply transplants the fictional locations used in Lovecraft's prose to the real-life equivalents cited by Lovecraft himself as his inspiration for the renamed landscapes in his works (with letters citing the inspiration printed on the back cover of each issue). Innsmouth is Salem, Arkham is Manchester, Dunwich is Athol. Miskatonic University is now the real-life Saint Anselm's College whose exterior facade is accurately reproduced in the book, and the Church of the Starry Wisdom is the demolished St John's Church of Providence. This become a plot point in the final issue, where the characters enter "Lovecraft Country" Lovecraft's fictional rendition of these events.
    • Issue 9 makes clear that Robert Black is actually an expy for Robert Harrison Blake, who is also a writer who moves into 66 College Street and becomes researches the Church of Starry Wisdom, Issue 10 has him meeting a similar fate as Blake. Interestingly Lovecraft in real life based Blake upon a friend of his, horror writer Robert Bloch.
  • City of Adventure: Manchester, the Providence analogue for Arkham in a very horror-styled take. It is the location of Saint Anselm's College (Miskatonic University) which has Hali's Booke of Wisdom (aka the Necromonicon), it has Hezekiah Massey and her Witch-House, Hector North Reanimator is faculty there, and the meteor from The Color Out of Space fell in the same location, and of course Elspeth Wade lives there.
  • Creepy Child: Lovecraft readers will recognise that Elspeth as standing in for Asenath Waite from "The Thing on the Doorstep", and so is apparently possessed by Etienne Roulet, one of the founders of Stella Sapiente.
    • Willard Wheatley looks like a fully grown ugly man despite being 6.
  • Cool Shades: Henry Anneseley wears purple lensed spectacles that is especially groovy for 1919! Unknown to Robert, they provide Henry a glimpse into an interdimensional realm filled with eldritch abominations that are apparently all the time present hovering around us invisible.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Robert and H.P. Lovecraft are just acting out roles prophesised long ago and suffering while doing so, particularly Robert. Robert finally wises up at the very end but it doesn't help. The end of the series, Issue 12, more or less states all of humanity, and each individual is one and they should accept it.
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: When Robert Black meets Henry Annesley, an actual memeber of Liber Stella Sapiente, the latter successfully sells the order less as a Mystery Cult and more as an academic book club of shared enthusiasts. He says that the Order's interests in occult is merely a foundation for scientific research and the complaints made by the Wheatleys and Boggs is unfair. Robert seemingly buys this and feels disappointed that the group he had built up is so disappointing. Naturally it's an act, they are actually no different from Wheatley, and even conceived the Redeemer in the same manner, but with a more scientific, and less incest-y, approach.note 
  • Dark Messiah:
    • The Booke of the Wisdom of the Stars outlines the arrival of a figure called "The Redeemer" whose coming will be greeted by a Herald. Willard Wheatley implies that Robert Black is the Herald for the Redeemer, and Hezekiah Massey and Elspeth Wade also treat him likewise.
    • The Stella Sapiente had a split in their organization about the nature and identity of the Redeemer. The snobby leaders kicked Wheatley and Boggs out of the organization to follow their own plan. This led Garland Wheatley to summon Yog Sothoth and impregnate Leticia with his own candidates for the Redeemer: Willard Wheatley and John-Divine.
    • The Liber Stella Sapiente settled on Howard Philipps Lovecraft, product of an Arranged Marriage between the daughter of the Order's leader and a young novice he was mentoring. It's implied by Sarah Lovecraft that her husband Winfield may have been possessed like Garland at the time.
  • Deadly Euphemism: Suydam and Gerritsen whisper about a shipment of "unripe fruit" they have just received, which looks "Norwegian" and about "five or 6". They are talking about a child sacrifice they just bought through trafficking, who will presumably be fed to Lilith.
  • Death by Adaptation: Ephraim Waite is long dead here, unlike in Lovecraft's original story. Instead of being a capable sorceror, Edgar Wade was merely a more recent host of the body-swapping Etienne Roulet.
  • Deconstruction: Part of Alan Moore's intent is to ground Lovecraft's stories in the context of the political and social tensions of the period in which it was written:
    • The racist subtext of Lovecraft's original stories is directly brought to the surface and re-examined with a modern lens. The residents of the Innsmouth-expy resent others for racially discriminating against them. The Red Hook is shown as a positive example of New York's melting pot rather than the hysterical racist atmosphere in Lovecraft's story set there.
    • Likewise, where Lovecraft described the occult in generally sinister terms, and seemed to feel that cosmic forces can make one Go Mad from the Revelation, Moore, being an occultist himself, is more neutral towards these aspects. As such many of the evil and creepy wizards and sorcerors from Lovecraft's stories are shown to be Affably Evil or given Pet the Dog moments.
    • Occult societies are also shown to contain the same class biases and prejudices then the supposedly conventional society they are criticizing. Garland Wheatley and Tobit Boggs are both disappointed that they are looked down as low-down hicks by the current Order of the Stella Sapiente, which is led by the more urbane and academically minded occult groups:
      Robert Black: I mean, I don't know much about the occult, but I'd have thought that serious philosophers should be above all that.
      Garland Wheatley: Course they should! They talk about distant stars an' eternity's depths an' how man ain't nothin', though respectable society is, seems like.
    • Henry Anneseley for his part refutes these charges, and states that the Liber Stella Sapiente have modernized and become more accessible, less ritualistic and more scientific in their approach and researches and for them the Redeemer Prophecy is only one of many parts of the Order and not the sole one.
  • Did You Just Romance Cthulhu?: In volume 10, Robert gets a blowjob from Carcossa, a messenger from the outer spheres and an Eldritch Abomination. Robert is not in the least pleased by the experience.
  • Dissonant Serenity: The characters including FBI Chief Carl in the final section comment on this when they enter the Lovecraftian dreamworld and accept the bizarre as normal. Including having a man commit suicide in front of their eyes, forgetting small details and events from two or three minutes back.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Common in the issues, which often refer to Lovecraft stories.
    • The title of the whole series "Providence" is first a reference to Lovecraft natal city, but also means a divinely ordained chain of events. It is implied throughout the story that Black's journey is due to forces above his own volition and he is continuously referred to as a "herald".
    • Issue 2's "The Hook" refers to "The Horror at Red Hook", the story that it is largely based on. It also refers to hooks which grasp the mind: Robert finds out much more about Hali's Booke and fuel for his research, and the reader sees the first obvious sign of the supernatural.
    • Issue 4 is called "White Apes", referring to Lovecraft's "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family", which was first published as "The White Ape". The issue refers repeatedly to ideas of eugenics, a field which led to monkey-related slurs for black people.
    • Issue 6 is called "Out of Time", as the protagonist from the famous "The Shadow Out of Time" appears, Robert discovers that he time-travelled, he experiences time dilation when reading Hali's Booke, and Etienne Roulet is a centuries old immortal who has surpassed his time. The title also ominously suggests that Robert is out of time and so is doomed.
    • Issue 7 is "The Picture", reflecting Pitman's work as an artist, the photograph in the last panel which fundamentally separates Pitman from his Lovecraftian equivalent Pickman, and how Pitman attempts to show Black "the bigger picture" to explain his supernatural encounters.
    • Issue 9 is "Outsiders" which shows us Providence from the perspective of New Yorker Robert Black, but also refers to the eldritch beings in the higher plateaus of the inter-dimensional realm. It also refers to Charles Howard's sense of being an outsider in Providence, where as a gay man, he has to keep a front of local antiquarian to fit in.
  • Dramatic Irony: The series is rife with it, as Robert Black encounters many famous Lovecraftian characters yet often fails to truly comprehend the horrors he faces.
    • Dr North drops so many puns about his unusual hobbies it is remarkable that even Black does not note the truth.
    • For a character with precognitive dreams, Robert Black is awful at predicting the future when awake. He even dismisses the possibility of prohibition becoming law.
    • Robert is also an investigative reporter, yet he is staggeringly poor at picking up clues around him. These range from his denial of the supernatural in front of him, to more mundane features such as recognising O'Brien's coat in Pitman's possession. Though the latter is somewhat forgivable given his distraction.
    • Pitman is an artist who expresses himself and his knowledge of ghouls through his paintings: he reflects that he is a very visual man. But when he introduces Robert to a ghoul to explain the supernatural, he repeatedly insists that Robert must not look at King George.
    • Lovecraft quips that the stars must have dictated his meeting with Robert Black, having no idea that their meeting is part of a great prophecy. He also has no idea that he might not be entirely human, while his books show a deep fear of miscegenation between races.
  • Dream Land: Randolph Carter takes Robert Black on a lucid dream tour of the Dreamworld, sharing their vision through the 700 Steps method. It's implied through this they metaphysically travel underground and back in time, to where Lovecraftian entities wait to return to the mortal realm.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Feature deliberately lightly in the story, as Robert Black is merely touching the surface of the Mythos in his storyline. What is apparently Yog-Sogoth does appear on page in a flashback in issue 4 though.
    • Carcossa of volume 10 which having roughly the shape of a human (from one angle) looks like a superposition of every position he was in, and his mouth looks like a butthole.
  • End of an Era: Issue 11 shows the fall of the various cults seen in the series and the rise of the unchecked fanboyism seen in Neonomicon.
  • Eureka Moment: In volume 10, Lovecraft shows Robert a picture of his grandfather Philip Van Buren. It allows Robert to slowly to surely piece together everything he's heard about the Stella Sapiente and discover that Lovecraft is their latest experiment and the Redeemer. This discovery shakes him profoundly
  • Fair Cop: Tom Malone from "The Horror at Red Hook" is quite a bit more handsome than Robert Black expected, lampshading that his literary inspiration was considerably older.
  • Faux Affably Evil: King George presents his fellow ghouls as scavengers that peacefully eat dead humans. But Pitman's paintings show ghouls gleefully slaughtering people at a train station, and another painting shows a pair stripping a victim and prancing around in his clothes.
  • Fish People: The residents of Salem look human but they have a lot of fish features, such as protruding eyes, scales, and neck wrinkles which resemble gills. They metamorphose when they age into fully aquatic creatures.
  • Foil: Willard Wheatley states that in the Redeemer story there has to be "thuh crazy granpappy, un' thuh whaht-faced wummun, un' thuh bad-lookin' bwoy". As rivals in competing the prophecy, Garland Wheatley and Whipple Van Buren Phillips are the crazy grandfathers, Sarah Lovecraft (who used arsenic face-whitening powder) and the albino Leticia are the white-faced women, and H.P. Lovecraft (who is called hideous by his mother) is set against the monstrous Willard and John Divine. But despite this the families are heavily contrasting, considering Sarah and Howard's ignorance of the supernatural, the Lovecraft's urban and the Wheatley's rural character, and their responses to economic and social struggle.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The prophesised rise of the Dreamworld is often discussed, where Lovecraftian creatures return to reclaim the earth. The beginnings of this is depicted in Neonomicon.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In his Commonplace Book entry for August 2nd, which Black pens shortly before visiting the Wheatleys, he describes a story idea about a young journalist who investigates a supernatural horror without realising its true nature until it is far too late. Black even notes that his protagonist would need a strong capability for self-delusion to remain believable. This is pretty much his own fate. Doubles as Dramatic Irony.
    • Officer O'Brien's fate is subtly revealed by that his black coat is still in Pitman's house, and the ghoul mentions encountering another redhead dressed in black.
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: The third method of immortality mentioned in Hali's Booke. Black temporarily undergoes it with Roulet, who inhabits Elspeth Wade.
    • Nat Paisley briefly appears in issue 6 as well, as he is the most famous Lovecraftian example. It's alluded to that he already underwent it for five years, ending about a year back.
  • Futureshadowing:
    • Issue 3 includes several references to The Holocaust, the Swastika that Robert Black runs into on the road and a dream where he sees several of the fish-folk executed in the Gas Chamber. He also sees J. Edgar Hoover with a Humanoid Abomination, which is depicted in The Courtyard in a photo dated a few years after this series.
    • Issue 7 has O'Brien complaining about Governor Calvin Coolidge, predicting he'll use the Red Scare and militia suppression of the riots and parlay that into a political career where he'll ruin things even more. Coolidge who once proclaimed "the only business in America is business" is regarded as a President whose policies paved the way for The Great Depression, scheduled for arrival 9 years later.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: The Commonplace Book becomes this inadvertently after Robert's suicide in the penultimate issue, helping to take down two covens and providing what appears to be a last ditch hope for humanity.
  • Gainax Ending: The finale is a major one. Brears gives birth to Cthulhu who is then given over to Johnny Carcosa. Humanity and all existence will continue to exist in a Dream World with most unaware of it, some gone crazy, while others accepting it and coming to terms with it somehow.
  • Gilligan Cut: Elspeth invites Black to her lodging, as he feels he's going a little crazy. He promises he "won't pour out all his problems". One panel later he's babbling about everything on his heart.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: King George's shine white.
  • Goggles Do Something Unusual: In volume 9, Annesley's Cool Shades allow him to see Eldritch Abominations floating in the air and through objects.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Most Salem residents are half-Deep One, and the Wheatley siblings were fathered by Yog-Sogoth. Issue 9 implies that H.P. Lovecraft may be as well, considering the light his mother Sarah describes his father Winfield at the conception sounds similar to Garland summoning Yog-Sogoth.
    • Pitman may be a ghoul-human hybrid, or a human turning into a ghoul, as both are possible in Lovecraft's original stories. His inhumanity is subtler than with the above examples, but his prominent bone structure, heavy body hair, pointed ears and resistance to cold are all familiar. King George may admit that they are related, and it explains Pitman's affinity for the ghouls.
    • The final issue depicts Cthulhu as a half-human hybrid, the child of the Deep One and Agent Merrill Brears. As Joshi, speaking on behalf of Moore comments, of all of Lovecraft's fictional gods, Cthulhu is the one described as humanoid.
  • Haunted House Historian: Dr Wantage is one of the few people outside of Stella Sapiente who seems to understand what Hali's Book really is. He relates how it was one of the few books to survive a mysterious fire, worries that something might break out of the book, and alludes to how it might harm Robert.
  • He Knows Too Much: Pitman tries to urge O'Brien to leave, but the police officer just had to notice how extremely realistic the painting of the Boylston Street Station disaster was...
  • The Hero Dies: Ashamed at the role he played in the upcoming apocalypse, Robert opts to commit suicide in the penultimate issue.
  • Hillbilly Horrors: Deconstructed, subverted and played straight:
    • The fish-people of Salem resent how the townfolk and in general tourists see them as hicks because they are mixed-raced, with the narrative comparing their prejudice to be similar to anti-semitism.
    • Garland Wheatley and his family also resent how the people of Athol and the Stella Saps (as he and Boggs call the Order) are treated as low-down hicks. So, what does Garland Wheatley do to prove that he and his family are not low-down hicks who are unworthy of the knowledge of cosmic force, he proceeds to summon Yog-Sothoth and impregnate his daughter with abominations for twins:
  • Historical-Domain Character:
    • Hali, the author of the "Booke of the Wisdom of the Stars", is described as the pseudonym of Khalid ibn Yazid, an actual, and highly obscure, figure in medieval alchemy. In Moore's fashion, he is the mirror and parallel for Abdul Alhazred, the author of the Necronomicon.
    • The splash image of the Actor's Equity Strike has W.C. Fields in the crowd.
    • In addition to this, Whipple Van Buren Philipps, Lovecraft's grandfather and Winfield Scott Lovecraft, his father are members of the Stella Sapiente.
    • Weird-fiction giant Lord Dunsany and of course, H. P. Lovecraft himself finally makes an appearance in Issue 8. Issue 12 has a fictional version of Lovecraft's real-life biographer S. T. Joshi attending the birth of Chtulhu.
  • Historical In-Joke: Issue 11 has J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI discuss Robert's Commonplace book, with Clyde Tolson. Hoover himself notes there's something "unmanly" about Robert. The joke is that Hoover was himself a closet Gay Conservative and Clyde Tolson was his longtime partner.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Issue 3's fever dreams has several repeated allusions to Nazism and The Holocaust:
    Prissy Turner / "Lily" / Jonathan: Oh Bobby, you are a camp ... Did I ruin your concentration? Did I interrupt your masterwork?
    Robert Black: My Book, my work, it's going to make me free. note .
  • Humanoid Abomination:
    • Lilith, who Robert Black encounters beneath Robert Suydam's cellar.
    • Johnny Carcosa's mother, who cameos in the series and doesn't appear to age. Johnny Carcosa appears himself, and reveals an anus-like mouth underneath his mask.
    • The residents of Salem who are the fish-men hybrids of The Shadow Over Innsmouth. They look humanoid but have features that are quite fish-like, including protruding eyes and gill-like neck flaps.
    • Willard looks more human than his brother John-Divine, but he looks middle-aged when he's six years old, and can warp cubes into a tessarect.
    • His mother states that Lovecraft is himself one, that his father's face was the "same ball of light" that Leticia glimpsed when she was impregnated by her father.
  • Hypocritical Humor: H.P. Lovecraft declines the opportunity to fawn over one of his literary idols since he believes it to be rude, but he is absolutely starved for adulation himself and encourages Black to keep singing his praises upon meeting him.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Lovecraft, who is almost cruelly blockaded from the real-life equivalents of all the supernatural characters and events he is manipulated into writing.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Robert Black accuses the ghouls of cannibalism, King George doesn't deny but he says that he and his kind eat the already dead, the ones which are no use to society. The last scene suggests that Pitman is in essence a Serial Killer who has murdered people and then fed their bodies to the ghouls, and then used those photographs as reference. The special references to the Great Molasses Flood and a gas leak in Boylston Street which Officer O'Brien recognizes hints that Pitman was behind those disasters and that he killed O'Brien because He Knows Too Much.
    • King George actually denies being a cannibal, pointing out that if he ate his brother "George Washington", that WOULD be bad (and cannibalism). Eating dead humans, however, isn't cannibalism, because ghouls aren't human.
    • Shadrach Annesley appears in issue 3, and is implied to share his literary counterpart's cannibalism. Confirmed in Issue 12, where he casually eats and consumes an FBI agent, as well as Aldo Sax, licking the blood around his tongues.
  • Immortality Immorality: Suydam and Dr North are heavily implied to have killed people in their attempts to gain further life, and Etienne Roulet has been stealing people's bodies for centuries, of which only the most recent is Elspeth.
  • Immortality Seeker: Elongating life, particularly using the four methods mentioned in the Kitab (diet, temperature, transference of souls, and revitalizing a cadaver) are referred to repeatedly and help tie the myriad stories together. Two founders of Stella Sapiente (Roulet and Massey), and Roulet's acquaintance Annesley have all managed to survive the centuries.
    • Shadrach Annesley, who briefly appears in the third issue, is suggested to use the diet method of cannibalism, extending his life by two and a half centuries.
    • Dr. Alvarez in the first issue uses the second method by chilling himself.
    • Etienne Roulet has managed to live as long as Shadrach by stealing people's bodies through the swapping of souls.
    • Dr North is attempting the fourth with his experiments, but is largely unsuccessful so far.
    • Hekeziah Massey of issue 5 managed to discover a fifth way of prolonging her life that was not mentioned in the Kitab.
  • Insult Friendly Fire: It was bound to happen when Robert Black, secretly homosexual and Jew, meets with Lovecraft and spends time with him. After Lovecraft assures Robert that the poet Samuel Cleaves couldn't possibly be homosexual because he writes good poetry or that the poet Loveman's ability as a writer is exceptional because he can write "despite being a Jew", Robert is considerably colder with Howard. Not that Howard notices.
  • Interspecies Romance: Cave drawings in Salem depict men mating with Deep Ones.
  • Kabbalah: Issue 4 depicts Yog-Sothoth as the Tree of Life.
  • Large Ham: The ghouls are really over-the-top even when they're horrific. The final photograph depicting O'Brien's corpse has them shamelessly mugging for the camera with one ghoul even giving what seems like a thumbs-up
  • "Leave Your Quest" Test: Issue 4, features this. Robert Black follows Wheatley's advice to go to Manchester but the latter advises him that there could be no coming back. The final panels shows Black walking out of Athol towards Manchester but staring back one last time before moving on, while the panels cite Lovecraft's poem, "The Ancient Track".
    Garland Wheatley: Just so long as you remember that them paths to the old knowledge only goes one way. One you're there, you can't come home no more.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Lovecraft and his writing is essential to the master plan. Lovecraft's awareness of this? Much, much, much less so.
  • Lovecraft Country: Much of the series is set in New Hampshire, particularly Manchester, the series' analogue for Lovecraft's Arkham. Salem, Massachusetts also stands in for Innsmouth.
  • Mad Artist: Robert Black's notes in his commonplace book is filled with misgivings about whether he has the literary talent to write the Great American Novel about the "hidden America". He states that he's probably too normal to be a great writer and that to properly deal with the occult one has to be a little crazy to start with.
    • Ronald Underwood Pitman plays with this trope. He paints murderous ghouls and the Stella Sapiente, and kills people for his art. But he acts perfectly sane.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Both Boggs and Wheatley call the Order of the Stella Sapiente, Stella Saps (i.e. starry fools).
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The approach to Lovecraftian horror in the books is to present it this way to Robert Black, while the reader knows the truth. Robert Black, being an aspiring writer, lampshades the trope by describing it in his commonplace book at the end of Issue 4:
    Robert Black: Now, if something supernatural were to actually occur to someone in real life, anyone normal would just run a mile. They wouldn't have the author and reader's interest in unravelling the mystery and getting to the story's end. They'd simply flee. I know I would, and I like to think that I'm a normal person underneath it all. I suppose the only way to handle it realistically is to rely on people's tendency not to believe that anything out of the ordinary is going on, even if evidence is mounting to the contrary."
    • Issue 1, has Robert encounter the undead protagonist of "Cool Air", but believes he is merely suffering an unusual medical condition.
    • Issue 2, has Robert Black visits Suydam's house and his famous basement filled with an underground cavern of unusual architecture. He then gets attacked by Lilith, a glowing creature with claws, and he loses his hat in the basement. Later he wakes up in the basement and rationalizes the entire episode as a psychological dream grounded in conversations and anxieties he had experienced earlier that day. Then the last page reveals that his experience was absolutely real.
    • Issue 3, has Robert Black meeting the fish-human hybrids from The Shadow Over Innsmouth with Robert Black not noticing many tell-tale signs of their non-human origins.
    • In Issue 4, Black meets Willard (a Wilbur Whateley expy) who is obviously inhuman and is constructing an impossible fourth-dimensional object (albeit with his back turned to Black), as well as Wilbur's invisible, totally-alien brother. The latter doesn't really faze him, as he believes that Wilbur's mother Lavinia is having a hysteric episode and talking to thin air, but he mishears Wilbur's comments on his age.
    • In Issue 5, Robert believes his perception of the time loop is a dream, and dismisses his missing time of three weeks in the next issue as a symptom of mental illness.
    • Averted in issue 6. Black perceives clearly supernatural events when Elspeth switches bodies with him, and sees himself in the time loop with Mr Jenkins. He thinks the first event may have been hypnotism, but that is more like denial. He clearly knows he is witnessing the paranormal now.
    • By issue 7 Robert is clearly in denial about his experiences, and suppresses memories he cannot handle. He interprets Pitman's explanation of the Wade's power as illusions. He additionally convinces himself that his experience with King George was self-hypnosis, despite clearly glimpsing and smelling the ghoul.
    • In Issue 9 Henry Annesley deliberately tries to convince Robert of this, unlike previous characters who are more subtly covert or go with Robert's self delusions.
    • In Issue 10, Robert finally puts together and solves the Stella Sapiente conspiracy and writes a note to Tom Malone about all the hints he's picked, but at that very moment he is met by Johnny Carcosa/Nyarlathothep and meets his fate.
  • Meaningful Background Event: In issue 5, the moon is the only reliable way to follow the passage of time. Its passage makes it clear that Robert Black travelled days into the future.
    • Black sees a man running in the rain at the start of issue 5. The next issue reveals that it's actually a future version of him.
  • Meaningful Rename: Richard Upton Pickman is now Roland Underwood Pitman, signifying that he's significantly darker and more villainous than his original version.
  • Mercy Kill: The "Lethal Chambers" in Robert Chambers' The Repairer of Reputations have been opened in New York, and Jonathan Russell visits one in Bryant Park.
  • Meta Fiction: Since it's a pastische/homage/deconstruction of Lovecraft this is to be expected:
    • Wilbur Wheatley comments on the nature of the comic, how Robert Black is intruding upon his story and so competing with him. He is referring to prophecies in-universe, but the meaning is clear. Robert Black's commonplace book which jots down ideas for plots and stories has him Leaning on the Fourth Wall numerous times in describing the implications of the occult and the many tropes that Lovecraft would tackle in his books.
    • H.P. Lovecraft's father Winfield Scott is alluded to in issue 3, and appears in issue 5.
    • Since this series occurs in the same universe as Neonomicon, it appears that in-universe H.P. Lovecraft discovered the various supernatural phenomenon featured here and then wrote at least some of his stories about them, changing the names.
    • H.P. Lovecraft himself appears in issue 8.
  • Meta Origin: Nearly all the supernatural characters depicted are shown to be influenced by Hali's Book (the expy of the Necronomicon), either following its instructions on immortality or attempting to enact its prophecy.
  • Mind Rape: The same and literal rape happens to Robert Black when Edgar Wade/Elspeth Wade hijacks his body while trapping his consciousness in the body of Elspeth, a young girl. Robert gets raped by his own body in turn, while for extra horrific effect Robert believes he suffered a dissociative episode, and that he himself is a rapist..
  • More than Three Dimensions: Wilbur Wheatley casually constructs a tessarect in his shed.
    • Black becomes trapped in a nested time crunch during his stay in the Witch House
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Alan Moore writes Providence as a homage to the writer H. P. Lovecraft and his main protagonist Robert Black is himself an aspiring novelist and literary reader.
  • The Mourning After: Robert Black's boyfriend, Jonathan Russell (who Black calls "Lily") commits suicide in the first issue. On account of their relationship being hidden from society, Robert can't be caught mourning in public nor is he allowed to go to the funeral since absolutely no one would be allowed to know of their relationship. To get away from his grief, Robert gets involved in the occult research to write his first novel.
  • Mystery Cult: The Order of Stella Sapiente. Both Boggs and Wheatley complain about the main leaders not listening to all the suggestions of its members because the former two are despised by the more snobby figures in charge. The leaders which includes Ephraim Wade have their own plans with the Booke of the Wisdom of the Star and ensure that the knowledge is kept out of reach of the Wheatleys and others.
  • Mysterious Backer: Robert Black is often likened by the people he meets as a "Herald" and it's implied that his arrival into Lovecraft Country is part of a big plan. Suydam is especially deliberate when he sends a letter to Boggs telling the latter about Robert's arrival and the time he stumbled into Suydam's basement by accident. Elspeth Wade and Hezekiah Massey also recognize Robert as a special herald, and Wade states that they among others wanted to make an "impression" on him. Robert finally works out the true nature of the conspiracy when he finds out that Lovecraft's father and grandfather were members of the Liber Stella Sapiente, and Lovecraft is the Redeemer with himself as the herald.
  • Myth Arc: Recurring features ties the stories together: dreams, the occult, immortality and underground are the most obvious. This is all part of the greater storyline of Providence: Robert Black is the Herald of the Redeemer, who must learn of the secret chaotic world beneath human civilization.
  • Mythology Gag: The Church that would become "Club Zothique" in The Courtyard appears in "Providence" where it has already become a dance-hall.
    • Later, Robert Black's fever dream, flashes to the photograph of J. Edgar Hoover and the Deep One featured in The Courtyard and Neonomicon.
    • In the Commonplace Book portion of Issue 8, Black also describes meeting a pregnant woman on a bridge in a dream. Given what she tells him, it's pretty clear this is Merry Brear from Neonomicon, and she is very pregnant with Cthulhu.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Jonathan Russell, Robert's lover, is nicknamed Lillian, an allusion to the theatre actress Lillian Russell.
    • Boston ghouls are named after famous people from the Revolutionary War, maybe because these are the names they know best from when they first encountered humans when Boston was built. King George is the only one we see, but he mentions his brothers George Washington and Mary Pickford.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The respectable people of Salem who paint Swastika marks around the Boggs area of town are likened to proto-Nazis. note 
  • Non-Malicious Monster: King George treats individual humans kindly at times, and sees the ghouls eating dead humans as necessary for his species, and a use of an otherwise wasted resource. Subverted in that he doesn't justify the ghouls clearly gleeful consumption of alive and screaming people.
  • Not So Harmless: Pitman seems like a very decent chap throughout issue 7 and hosts Robert for ten days, treating him particularly kindly with the result that Robert is more relaxed than he's been in several issues. Then the last panel reveals that he doesn't just paint ghouls' horrific acts, he killed Officer O'Brien for his painting.
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: They naturally show up in the issue based on Pickman's Model. Seen on-page instead of alluded to, the ghouls show characteristics that Lovecraft just hints at, such as speech, intelligence and a sense of humour. They also grow to large sizes, dig up into graves to feast and live in urban tunnels, as Lovecraft describes them.
  • Painting the Medium: An Alan Moore staple. Deep One hybrids have an emboldened and jagged speech, while ghouls speak with earthy yellow and brown speech bubbles. Additionally when panels are drawn with straight lines instead of by hand, it is implied that something paranormal is watching.
  • Parental Incest: Issue 4 reveals that Old Man Whateley's expy equivalent is the father of his daughter's children. Possibly mitigated because Wheatley was possessed by Yog-Sothoth at the time.
  • Pet the Dog: Pitman tries to explain to Robert's experience to reassure him that he didn't commit rape, and tries to show ghouls to Robert so that the poor man knows what he is getting into. He explains that he is doing it because Robert is kind, has appreciated his work, and it is the decent thing to do.
  • The Power of Love: Dr. Alvarez, of all people, cites Love as the force that defines life.
    Dr. Alvarez: Love is the only substantial thing. It is noble in its noises and odours, I think. From where I look at this, to not love is to waste the existence. Even life is a small matter beside it. You see, it is not interrupted by death. Without it, this world cannot be endured.
  • Power Born of Madness: Sarah Lovecraft can see Annesley's invisible creatures without equipment.
  • Prequel: The series functions as this for The Courtyard and Neonomicon, also by Moore and Burrows.
  • Psychotic Smirk: An indicator that someone is possessed by Etienne Roulet.
  • Reality Bleed: As the three FBI agents investigate Black's diary in Issue 12, the entire world is drawn/fades into the reality of Yuggoth.
  • Religious Horror: More so than the original stories, as the storyline is centred around one of the Lovecraftian cult's mythology and attempts to fulfill their warped messianic myth.
  • Reverse Arm-Fold: Elspeth Wade does this a few times in Issue 6.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Black's response to his dream of Mrs Mason and her familiar, when he realises that something undeniably supernatural may actually be occuring.
    • And then twice in a row at the end of issue 6. I think it's safe to say that Mr. Black had enough of Manchester for a couple of lifetimes.
  • Screw Yourself: A deeply disturbing version happens in Book 6, as thanks to Body Surf, Robert Black's consciousness is transplanted from his body to that of a young girl possessed by an immortal sorceror. Robert Black's consciousness is helpless and trapped as he gets raped by his own body.
  • Secret Society Group Picture: A picture of the Stella Saps was taken by Ronald Underwood Pitman. Pitman notes that he was chosen by the group because he was a man of discretion (presumably because he had something to hide himself). The people in the photo are Garland and Leticia Wheatley (as a young girl), Edgar Wade, Henry Anneseley and at the center of the picture, Van Buren (aka Whipple Van Buren Phillips, Lovecraft's maternal grandfather who helped raise him) and next to him, a travelling salesman with an English accent identified by Pitman as "Winston something" (he is in fact Winfield Scott Lovecraft, HP's Dad).
  • Selective Obliviousness: Robert is insistent on trying to ignore the supernatural, rationalising them as psychological episodes. He even manages it retroactively after his body-swap rape, though by this point he is clearly in denial and suppresses his traumatic memories. Ironically his obliviousness is shattered not by seeing something inhuman, but by realising in a conversation with Lovecraft the latter's ties to Stella Sapiente.
  • Sequel Hook: Since each issue is fairly stand-alone, although connected by the arc of Robert's work, they tend to include hints of what Lovecraftian characters Robert will meet next.
  • Shout-Out: The book is a Homage to Lovecraft and each issue features a Whole Plot Reference to one or many Lovecraft stories and other Weird Tales:
    • The first issue, "The Yellow Sign" features extensive descriptions of Robert Chambers' The King in Yellow and has a Whole Plot Reference to the Lovecraft story Cool Air.
    • The second issue "The Hook" is a Prequel to Lovecraft's "The Horror at Red Hook".
    • Issue 3, "A Lurking Fear" visits Innsmouth.
    • Issue 4 takes us to Dunwich.
      • The POV of the invisible John-Divine is shown in infra-red, reminiscent of the Predator.
    • Issue 5 focuses mainly on "The Dreams in the Witch House", with additional references to "The Color From Outer Space".
    • Issue 6 focuses on The Thing on the Doorstep and alludes to events from Herbert West, Reanimator.
    • Issue 7 is one for Pickman's Model, though the art-work showing the 1920 Boston Riots suggests an Internal Homage by Jacen Burrows to Crossed.
  • Shown Their Work: An Alan Moore staple, but the background details of the comic, is highly dense and very well researched.
  • Sidelong Glance Biopic: The entire series is a critical examination of Lovecraft's life and fiction, exploring him in the sociopolitical and artistic context of his time and place with all kinds of Allohistorical Allusion to his life, work and background packaged in the background. Lovecraft himself only appears on-screen in Issue 8 of the 12 part series.
  • Signature Style: The first issue of Providence features elaborate background details, a multiple cast of characters and ends with a post-script text feature that elaborates on the backstory, much like Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: Robert Black gains a black raincoat in issue 6, showing his corruption by his reading of Hali's book and his experiences.
    • Howard Charles gains an old fashioned top hat and pipe as well as stubble when Japheth Colwen possesses him.
  • Smoking Hot Sex: A rather disturbing version in Issue 6 where after Robert-in-Elspeth gets raped by Etienne/Elspeth-in-Robert, the latter reverses their bodies and Robert backs away in shock while Etienne/Elspeth lights a cigarette muttering about the soreness of the body that he had just raped using Robert as a proxy.
  • Stealth Pun: Dr North's conversations with Robert Black are riddled with references to his work of reanimating the dead.
    • Mrs Massey/Macey is referred to as a "wise woman", an old term for a witch, and mentions residing in "another space nearby", which is actually a different dimension.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: Pitman wavers between this and attempting to straight-out explain Black's situation to him, as he struggles with the journalist's obvious denial.
  • Tears of Fear: Robert starts to silently weep when the ghoul King George is approaching him. Subverted, as the commonplace book entry reveals that his eyes were tearing up because he couldn't tolerate the Ghoul's revolting odor.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: Ronald Underwood Pitman is a quite boring-looking fellow, shy, agreeable and a modest artist. Which makes it all the more unnerving what he is mixed up in, as he knows that it's wrong.
  • Time Skip: Between each issue. The commonplace book bridges the gap and tells us what Robert is up to (mostly travelling/arranging/moving from one place to another). This skipping of events becomes a plot point in Issue 5 and 6 where time dilation happens, and Robert's journal gets hazy as he tries to keep his head straight.
    • Happens again in Issue 11 where the narrative travels almost 80 years to the time period of Neonomicon.
  • Time Travel: Robert Black travels back and forth in time in issue 5, astrally projected through his dreams. At the start of the issue he actually sees himself without realising, when he's projected temporarily forward in time by three weeks. In Issue 6, he experiences time dilation while reading Hali's Booke, moving slower in time than those around him..
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: Hali’s "Booke of the Wisdom of the Star", also known as "Liber Stella Sapiente" and "Kitab Al-Hikmah Al-Najmiyya", stands in for the Necronomicon.
    • It drives much of the plot, as Black researches it as part of his book, the secret society Stella Sapiente is centred around it, and numerous characters are inspired by it in their drive for immortality.
    • Robert Black finally gets a hold of a copy in Issue 6 and the book is genuinely creepy, as time starts dilating around Robert, so that a single session spent reading and taking notes, despite seeming to last a couple of hours, lasts for three days. The artwork and panels really conveys how weird and distorting the book is.
  • Town with a Dark Secret:
    • Salem, where its people mate with Deep Ones and then transform when they age.
    • Manchester, its the location of St. Anselm's college (i.e. Miskatonic University) which contains one of the world's only copies of the Tome of Eldritch Lore. It's also the site of a meteor crash that converted the rural outskirts into a "blasted heath", and then there's the really old Wise Woman's house.
    • Boston is infested with ghouls, as are many other places in the world.
    • Providence, where the Stella Sapiente are based and the local church houses Nyarlothotep. Lovecraft even mentions he is inspired by Robert to portray his town as a sinister place.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Black, who eventually catches on, and Lovecraft, who never does.
  • Verbal Tic: Ronald Underwood Pitman says "uhm" just about every sentence, and slightly more when he is lying.
    • Robert notably stutters a lot when he arrives in Boston at the beginning of issue 7, a result of his traumatic experience in Manchester.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: It is difficult to catch all the Lovecraftian references without a guide.
    • It's never remarked upon, but Dr Alvarez is even paler than Robert and his breath doesn't mist, confirming his nature to a perceptive reader.
    • Pitman has prussic acid, which is used in the photography process. A knowledgeable reader will know that this is an alternative name of hydrogen cyanide, which hints at its more recent use.
  • Wham Episode: Issue 8 finally has Robert Black meeting H. P. Lovecraft. The Herald has met the Redeemer, the end of the world has begun, and almost everyone who Black interacted with on his quest seem to realize somehow that the meeting has finally happened.
    • Issue 10 has Black finally figure out the prophecy, at which point he meets Johnny Carcosa.
  • Whatever Happened to the Mouse?: By the time of Neonomicon there have been over half a dozen "Heads and Hands Killers", but Issue 11 only shows Merill Brears freeing Aldo Sax and the first three murderers from the mental institution.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: Time dilation happens in the area around Manchester. Robert Black experiences it first hand when he starts reading Hali's "Booke of the Wisdom of the Star" and also in Hezekiah Massey's house.
  • Younger Than They Look: Willard, who looks 30 aged 6 and a half.

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