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Ragemoor Hardcover – November 20, 2012
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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.
The book is an interesting mix of two horror staples, Poe and Lovecraft. Ragemoor is a huge gothic castle perched on the edge of a cliff, inhabited by a young aristocrat and his faithful butler, who is visited by a relative and his wife who’re looking to scam them out of their castle. Except the castle is ALIVE – it’s literally this massive stone Transformer that goes from being a monster to a structure and back, over and over! Built atop the blood and bones of a death cult, the grounds are defended by skull-faced baboons from innumerable moloid-like creatures and the castle’s staff consist of a small team of Kafka-esque giant bugs! And the young aristocrat can never leave…
I liked the old school horror aspect of the comic. The gloomy haunted castle and its history is corny as hell but when presented alongside Corben’s art, I can forgive a lot. Strangely, Corben’s black and white art does seem to deteriorate in quality as the book continues. I’m not sure if it’s because he ran out of time and rushed it, or it’s intentional like the art becomes less detailed and focused because the characters are getting crazier and its reflecting their loosening grip on reality.
And while seeing Corben illustrate this book’s horrors is certainly delightful, after a while I wished there was more of a story here. It vaguely becomes about the young aristocrat giving Ragemoor an heir but then descends into unfettered madness. Again, maybe that was the point but it’s not very compelling to read. It doesn’t help that the book is somewhat skewed tonally – it’s more or less your cheesy, melodramatic gothic horror and that’s fine, and then the baboons show up and start fighting some weird little monsters and it starts to feel comedic. Maybe that was unintentional but I would’ve preferred straight horror and think that would’ve worked better overall.
Ragemoor definitely isn’t Corben’s best work but if you’re a fan like me it’s worth picking up for at least the excellent art in the first half of it. It’s also worth checking out if you like horror but don’t mind it with nonsensical, somewhat random and silly twists throughout.