Saturday, November 24, 2012

Review: Ragemoor

"This is a Jan Strnad and Richard Corben comic about a living, killing castle," is perhaps a sufficient amount of information for many comic readers regarding Ragemoor, a Dark Horse-published miniseries that is now available as a handsome hardcover (Without character-counting to be sure, I think I would have therefore been able to sufficiently review it in a single Twitter tweet!).

As individuals and as a team, the creators have built-up large bodies of great work that the mention of their names is all a lot of readers will need to know about the style and quality of the book, and "living, killing castle" gives the reader the core, compelling premise.

All that really remains to be discussed then, is perhaps where the book might fall on a scale of past Strnad and Corben collaborations and solo projects, and the specifics of that premise. For the sake of a meatier post, then, I'll keep least for a few more paragraphs, but suffice it to say this is a very good horror comic by two guys who are very good at making horror comics.

Corben's highly-textured art is presented in a very stark black and gray, with particularly luminescent whites appearing to render light sources and planes where the light has, um, alighted. The full-cover colors, some of which contain quite a bit less black than that of the collection's cover, are quite jarring when they appear between issue/chapters.

The story is a bit of a pastiche, beginning in a decrepit castle which lends the comic its title on a very dark, very stormy night. Liberal inspiration is taken from H.P. Lovecraft: In the ultimate extraterrestrial origin of supernatural threats, the presence of tentacled horrors worshipped by primitive cultures as gods and in the exposition delivered through a fevered, mad dream. Oh, and there's also the word "chitinous," which is one of a handful of words I don't think I've ever read or heard outside of a Lovecraft story...or a story deliberately referencing Lovecraft's oeuvre. (The specific usage is "Damn your chitinous hide," which has been stuck in my head like a snatch of a pop song over the course of the last 24 hours).

Inspiration is taken also from Edgar Allen Poe, whose word Corben has spent a great deal of time and energy adapting in other projects, particularly in the second chapter, during which the protagonist relates previous events in the form of an Annabell Lee-like poem.
The cast is quite small, and, as in many horror narratives, it dwindles dramatically as Ragemoor progresses: There's Herbert, the young master of the castle; his quite mad father, who climbs and crawls about its hall naked; his loyal servant Bodrick, who shares in the castle's dangerous secrets; his visiting uncle, who doesn't believe any of the poppycock; a young female companion traveling with his uncle, who captures Herbert's attention; and Tristano, a local poacher who grows too familiar with Ragemoor.

There's great risk in talking too much or too specifically about the story, as I think it offers greater delights the less you know about it. The most enjoyable parts for me were when it would take a quite unexpected turn for the weird, which it does several times; each was quite unexpected, and each ratchets up the insanity of the narrative to another degree. And remember, it begins with the story of a living castle, so Robert E. Howard-style plot points, magical realist acknowledgment of the bizarre living side-by-side by the more real and a Hammer Films-like low-camp delivery of lines like "I have baboons to feed" or anything said by or about Tristano.

While so many of the sources of the, um, pastichement are from outside of comics, it's Corben's particular designs and their application in the comics medium that are the strongest selling point (as pleasing as the weirdness is, it's the way the weirdness is rendered that makes it so delightful—see panels three, four and five on page 38 for a good example).

Corben's baboons, which live in the lower sections of Ragemoor for some reason, are drawn as if he based them on written descriptions of the first Englishman to encounter them, rather than from the easily-available image reference of, say, Google Image—they look like furry human beings with tails, wearing the elongated skulls of some kind of carnivore, perhaps a "real" baboon, over their true heads, so their white, pinpoint eyes stare out from the black cavities.

Comics are a pretty good place to render a living castle, as it turns out. While the castle in movement is shown in multiple instances, usually when quaking to rearrange itself, or when a gargoyle comes to life and rips a victim's chest out in a big, gory arc or when a stone hand sinks into the earth in a three-panel sequence, the movement is sometimes quite subtle—there's a page featuring a panel of five stone pillars standing erect, and, further down, a panel where they've closed.

Because the time that elapses between panels is up to the reader's imagination to fill-in, the effect of stone moving so slowly that a person can't be sure they are imagining it or not is possible in comics—although, I should not, Ragemoor is paced so that no such mysteries are dwelt upon. No sooner is the castle's particular nature revealed, beginning on page two, and a skeptic announces his disbelief than we see the castle itself in action.

As active as Castle Ragemoor may be, as in-control of it's own destiny as it may be, it is still a setting, and perhaps more enjoyable as a setting than as a character—after all, it's as a setting that it provides Strnad and Corben a place to put all of these delightfully weird moments.


Okay, one minor spoiler. There's a couple drawings of dinosaurs in the book:
I post this image just to show how Corben draws those Lovecraftian tentacley space god-monsters. They are literally all tentacle, with no head or body of any kind attached...that, or the creature the limbs are attached to are always off-panel; in the above image, for example, it may be underground, and is simply extending its tentacles to deal with the dinosaur. Either way—creatures so alien to our conception that they consist entirely of appendages, or so alien that the artist chooses never to show them to us, but, like Lovecraft, leave it up to our imagination to "design"—it's a good way of dealing with such creatures.

1 comment:

Akilles said...

I want this.