I’m always thrilled to see another Richard Corben adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe. Corben has reached that esteemed peak of elder statesmen of comics—and Eisner Hall of Famer—where he gets to relax and make exactly the type of comics he wants to make. Fortunately for all of us, what Richard Corben wants to make are Corbenesque adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe.
So far, all of his adaptations have been brilliant—all but this one. Corben has established a nice rhythm in his stories, taking Poe as the foundation onto which he builds his own stories. I always look forward to seeing what life Corben will infuse into the familiar stories – what strange plants will grow from his seeds. Which is why The Premature Burial was disappointing.
In this issue, Corben adapts two separate Poe tales, “The Premature Burial” and “The Cask of Amontillado”. They are linked thematically, with the idea of being buried alive. I don’t know if Corben was uninspired, or pressed for time, but these two stories do not pair well.
For one thing, they feel crammed in together—either of these are meat enough for Corben’s imagination to fill an entire issue, so I don’t know why they were bundled. He barely uses his Mag the Hag narrator character—I believe she gets one line. Everything seems rushed and perfunctory, like an issue published to meet a deadline other than the artistry of the previous issues in this series. I was actually shocked when The Premature Burial came to a sudden close, as I had no idea from the title that I was getting two stories adapted in this issue.
Of the two, The Premature Burial gets the better treatment. I confess to not remembering this tale very well, and some of the acts on display seem rather—modern—for Poe’s times. But I will re-read it as soon as I can to confirm. Corben deals nicely with the story, keeping you on the cusp of some dreamworld and playing with the hallucination-within-a- hallucination trope. For most of the story I had no idea what was really going on, until that final haunting denoument.
The one that disappointed me the most was The Cask of Amontillado. It doesn’t help that this is my absolute favorite Edgar Allan Poe story—it is far too brilliant and deserves much better than to be crammed in as the second half of a double-feature. It isn’t that Corben does a bad job of it; he adds an exceedingly clever framing device that I enjoyed. But the disappointment of missed opportunity is palatable. Corben could have easily done an entire issue based off of “The Cask of Amontillado”, maybe even two issues. Instead Corben does an almost by-the-numbers adaptation that pushes no envelopes and is far too safe. And it is incredibly rushed.
Fortunado is in the wall and bricked up over the space of a few panels—there is none of that terrible thrill of Montressor taking his time with his deliberate and patient revenge. And Poe’s dialog—some of his best—is far too absent.
But it is still Richard Corben. That means that the art is still beautiful, and the horror still tinged with humor and guile. And the smiles—those big, gaping Richard Corben smiles—are still the scariest thing in the book.
I just wish there had been more of it.