ADVANCE REVIEW! Ragemoor #1 will go on sale Wednesday, March 21, 2012.
I knew nothing about Ragemoor before opening its covers other than that it was Richard Corben doing gothic horror. That right there is enough get my interest. Corben has been active recently drawing Mike Mignola's Hellboy stories and some recent work in Dark Horse Presents, but it has been awhile since I have seen him working on an original series.
Ragemoor is the story of a castle. A dark and twisted castle, Ragemoor has grown organically from stone, blood, and evil over the millennia. Its first stones were laid over three thousand years before the birth of Christ, and human sacrifice and dark rituals fed the stones until they grew large and formed structure. Even now Ragemoor is not silent, but reshapes its corridors and rooms every night to suit its own fancy.
Trapped in Ragemoor is a family. How they came to live there, or what their attachment is to Ragemoor this first issue does not tell. Some of the members are allowed to leave, to seek their fortune elsewhere, while some are slowly driven mad inside its walls. The last remaining inhabitants are Cousin Herbert and his uncle Machlan. While Herbert is resigned to his fate, Machlan has been driven mad and now roams the castle naked, climbing up the walls like an ape. Old family arrive from America, a long-lost uncle and his beautiful daughter Anoria. They do not believe in the story of Ragemoor, and plan to steal it from Herbert and Machlan, then tear it down and see what treasures lie beneath.
But Ragemoor has other ideas.
Richard Corben's art is perfect here. Ragemoor gives him a solid foundation to flex his weird muscles, to draw his exaggerated characters twisted by evil and with their foulness written on their faces. Corben's characters are never quite human, never quite monster — they are expressionistic avatars of Gothic horror. And not just the people; Castle Ragemoor is full of skeleton-lined walls and twisting vines, all with deep fire-lit shadows.
While Corben's art is stunning and carries the issue, Strnad's story is less so. There isn't much depth given to the characters, or much reasoning behind their actions. The story supplies a brief framework on which Corben can wind his canvas. There are small hints of depth, a brief flirtation between Herbert and Anoria, the devious plans of the uncle from America, the story of the long-faced butler Bodrick, and what he means when he says the rest of the staff enjoy "the company of their own kind."
But the story is over before it even begins. I was surprised when I read the last page, and checked the cover again to confirm that this was indeed the first of four issues and not a one-shot. There doesn't seem anywhere for the story to go. On the last page all players are present and accounted for, without explanation.
I was really hoping for some background on Ragemoor, some letter from the editor talking about how the story came about, or an introduction to Jan Strnad, or… something to help ground what I just read. But maybe that is part of the point. Maybe by making this issue bleak, unsupported by explanation, unresolved except by death and madness, Strnad and Corben wanted to leave the reader with a lingering sense of uncomfort and dread.
If so, they succeeded.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.