The face that we see on the yin-yang cover of Mike Dubisch's mind bender of a graphic novel, Weirdling (Strange Fear), is one of two shifting personas named Anna Mandretta. A medical technician on an intergalactic battleship fighting a polymorphous alien enemy called the Xax, she's just another grunt in a universe of prolonged warfare. Her counterpart is a respected surgeon living in Victorian New England. This second Anna gets touched by a Lovecraftian deity which has taken control of a local couple conveniently named the Vessells. Depending on how you choose to read Dubisch's calculatedly slippery s-f horror tale, the "real" Anna could be either of these two characters.
To Anna One, her Miskatonik Hospital counterpart is the creation of a "Lucidream" virtual reality emitter to which she escapes between Xax attacks. To Anna Two, the perpetually embattled world is another dimension (one of many existing "at different vibrations of the cosmic ether") that she's able to access via an experimental device called the Neural Cryptometer. As Weirdling progresses, however, figures and events from each respective Annaverse begin spilling into the other. Someone has tampered with the first Anna's virtual reality device, turning her into a "virt addict." And as with Anna Two's contact with the Elder God, Azag-Thoth, the experience has given her unfathomable powers.
Maintaining this kind of balancing act, juggling malleable realities without either being too schematic or tumbling into incoherence, can be tricky business. Writer/artist Dubisch by and large pulls it off, though there are times in Weirdling where he makes his dialog more expository than believable. To my eyes, his art is more convincing when he tackles the early century setting than it when the action shifts to his future ship. At times, when Anna is the proper Miskatonik medico, I found myself pleasantly thinking of underground horror commix artists like Greg Irons and Jack Jackson, particularly in their attempts at rendering Lovecraftian pastiche. Dubisch's futuristic battle scenes, despite his attempts at imparting an element of visual mystery on his alien creatures, have an air of tentativeness about 'em.
Perhaps that's intentional: the writer-artist's way of visually undermining the "reality" in which Weirdling both opens and closes. ("I find myself not caring about the state of the ship," Anna says near the book's conclusion. "It seems so flat. Literally two dimensional.") And even in the mist of the multi-dimensional chaos, Dubisch provides some solid creepy images – zombified crewmen and villagers (each of the realities' monsters has its own way of turning humans into walking automatons), mutated children, monstrous drug-induced visions – to bolster his story's subtler psychological horrors. An unpredictable genre work packed with plenty of hybrid vigor, Weirdling is recommended for both followers of the Cthulhu Mythos and the labyrinthine uncertainties of Philip K. Dick.