ADVANCE REVIEW! Ragemoor will go on sale Wednesday, November 7, 2012.
How much weirdness can you handle? That is the question to ask yourself before you dive into Ragemoor. Cockroach cooks, skull-faced baboons, Giant bug cults in the basement, and a man blowing up like a balloon then popping and spewing maggots all over. That's how Ragemoor rolls.
I knew nothing about Ragemoor before opening its covers other than that it was Richard Corben doing Gothic horror. That right there was 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. Jan Strnad is an old writing partner of Corben's, and seeing those two names together was more than enough to seal the deal.
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 3,000 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 we get only hints at. 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.
Ragemoor is comics horror at its finest. Jan Strnad and Richard Corben slowly build to a stunning climax, with each chapter piling more and more weirdness on the readers, removing any foundation of sanity until you are adrift in a world where anything can happen and does. They tap into some perfect blend of Poe, Lovecraft, and 1950s monster-chiller-horror-theater that captures the best elements without coming off as cheesy or contrived. I can't remember the last time a comic legitimately scared me. I love horror comics, but most of them are cool fun rather than scary. Few comic books actually make me squinch when I turn a page, or shudder at the sheer grotesquery on display. Ragemoor did just that.
And Richard Corben's art. Man, the guy just gets better and better. There is no plateau. Corben is like an aged single malt whisky, with depth and maturity added by years. With each new comic, with each new panel of each new comic, he delivers something new and unique and beautiful that can't be matched by any other artist. He doesn't need to sign his name to his work, his work is his signature. A character smiling in one of his comics is the most chilling scenes you can read, because that character is almost certainly mad. And Corben gets to play in Ragemoor. Without the confines of a deep story, he fills the comic full of his particular dark vision, in glorious black-and-white. His work on Ragemoor is Corben at his best.
One of the things I enjoyed about Ragemoor is that I had no idea what is coming next. From panel to panel, I could never guess where the story is going. Strnad and Corben seem less concerned with putting forth a coherent story than with playing with Gothic tropes and filling each panel with as much weirdness as possible. I was sometimes unsure of their intentions; Is this a straight-forward horror story? Is it a parody? Is it both? Some of the scenes are so outrageous that I am sure they must be having a laugh, but then the tone is deadly serious.
I don't think this is a comic for everyone. Ragemoor is only recommended for those with a high tolerance and appreciation for the bizarre. I can't imagine a casual reader picking this up and enjoying it. But if you like that sort of thing — if you want to be unbalanced and disturbed — then Ragemoor is right for you.
I am glad that Dark Horse collected Ragemoor in this hardback edition. It certainly deserves it. And like all of Dark Horse's excellent collected editions, we get a glimpse of Corben's sketchbook in the back. This was an eye-opener for me. It is amazing to see Corben's craft, how he starts with relatively normal looking characters then slowly devolves them into Corben-folk. A much-appreciated bonus to this edition.
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.