Monday, May 28, 2012

Ragemoor #3

Ragemoor looms as the gleeful homicidal grandmother to the Overlook Motel, the psychotic aunt, once removed, to Hill House and the sadistic incest-reveling uncle to the House of Usher.

This ancient architectural nightmare engineered by Jan Strnad[1] and Richard Corben[2] has the foundation of gothic tropes and horror standards mortared together with sinister stylized black-and-white images to evoke an eerie innovative atmospheric comic book. In this third issue (out of four) the tension teeters on a battlement’s edge. The owner Herbert chases off his beloved’s lover, before his would-be lover tosses herself into a pit stating she’d rather die than bed Herbert. The butler Brodrick drinks a tincture brewed from flowers that only grow at Ragemoor and reports visions. Meanwhile, the baboons defend against the worms and the castle Ragemoor plots some sinister unspeakable but necessary-for-humanity’s survival scheme. While most comic series (or at least many of the series that I’ve read) tend to loose some momentum or creativity upon nearing completion, Ragemoor builds on its previous story arcs and enhances its superiority with each installment. 

Ragemoor possesses a unique retelling of the haunted-house story. The story, art, and dialogue combine to create a creepy and unsettling atmosphere through the pacing of the story, the information strategically held in reserve, and the implied secrets of the plot. If not the best horror comic book on the shelves, it certainly receives the distinction (for what it’s worth) of one of only two comics that gave me nightmares[3].

Ragemoor issue 2 revealed that Ragemoor, with hell-paved good (probably) intentions used a baboon brigade to protect its inhabitants from the vile clutches of the white worms. Adding this mothering urge to the killer castle provides readers the chance to sympathize with the stone structure that simultaneously defends and destroys those who populate its halls.  The tangle of emotions towards the structure tangles heartstrings (as if having feelings towards a fictional building in a comic book wasn’t strange enough) and casts castle Ragemoor in the role of a Byronic hero…perhaps allowing Manfred and the Cenci a summer home when they vacation from the Castle of Ooronoko.

The horror Corben and Strand deal in mine’s its fear beyond the psychology and humanity; instead they’re working in fields of fear that stretch to prehuman times, a time of titans and elder gods of a Lovecraftian cosmos. This casting to a cosmic scale adds to the terror of Ragemoor, even though the characters, and the readers, don’t know for sure what is occurring, it is known that the consequences will be severe and will stretch beyond a single person, family, and species to the very nature of all life and existence on a universal scale as we know it. That’s a lot of stress resting on the walls and support beams of Ragemoor.

The artwork of Richard Corben adds to this fundamental threat evoked by this story. His style is primitive in its evocation, not its execution. An aura of atavism suspends itself upon each of the characters through the minimization of detail and the broad lines and chubby stippling used to build the panels, often from a worm’s eye perspective. This base view implies the lowly reader, sharing the perspective with a worm, looks up to Ragemoor as something superior and beyond full-human comprehension for the continuity of existence. The smooth black and white (the perfect colors for the best horror tales) contributes to the eerie mood, especially when such varied shapes of uninterrupted black are employed. The dark shadows chiaroscuro with the stark white present in almost every panel and further stir and complicate the mixed emotions of conflicting extremes which Ragemoor as both mother and monster is cast.

Horror terrifies best in drams instead of quarts. Each issue of Ragemoor is self-contained and yet still contributes to the larger story. Corben and Strand vivisected the ideal essences of single issues and the larger story, and then melded these core traits into something worthy of evoking the admiration of Dr. Moreau. Reading Ragemoor in monthly installments allows time for speculations to seep into synaptic crevices and intensifies the anticipation for the next issue. This hesitation and rumination between issues matches the mood of the book. Characters too must wait for the castle to reveal its agenda. Characters too don’t know what will occur next. Characters and readers seethe in dread as they await the castle’s next decree.

Along with the haunted house, betrayal, greed, incest, physical pain, mental anguish, murder, and madness, Ragemoor holds secrets. The castle’s internal susurrations remain unknown to the characters and only become semi-revealed through drug use, though even with chemical assistance the revelations remain ineffable as the butler Brodrick confesses when asked about his drug induced dream:
            “I…cannot! It is but shadows and monstrous images…A fearsome nightmare that I cannot describe.  Perhaps I will have the words by morning…”

When language fails and communication breaks down, especially in a sinister haunted house, the isolation of characters further adds to the fear and oppression exuded from the structure Ragemoor. And really, what better way to keep a secret, than to have a secret that is utterly beyond formation or expression in words. Despite the dark streaks of madness within the shifting walls of Ragemoor, it remains one crafty sentient castle, distinct, yet in good standing within the family of architectural horrors.

[2] Check out Corben’s creative process chronicled at Comic Monsters:

[3] David Hine’s and Jeremy Haun’s Darkness 101 brought on bad dreams from its implied terrors.

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