Sunday, August 2, 2015

MEDIAVORE: COMICS ~ RICHARD CORBEN'S "RAT GOD"


RAT GOD (Dark Horse, 5-issue mini, $3.99 each) ~ In the world of illustrated horror and dark fantasy, it just doesn't get any better than Richard Corben, multiple-award-winning Eisner Hall of Fame inductee (2012), tent-pole artist of Heavy Metal Magazine's late-70's Golden Age, and one-time High Priest of the comix underground. Whether he's working with established characters and storylines--his Luke Cage and Hulk minis for Marvel were both excellent and influential in ways that are only now beginning to be appreciated--or creating entirely new ones, as is the case with this awesome new title for prestige publisher Dark Horse, Corben is one of the most iconic and essential comics artists working today. It's always cause for celebration 'round Chateau LeBoeuf whenever the Master decides to put out a new title... and that's an understatement.

 

Over the course of its five issues, RAT GOD tells a story that is both familiar and yet completely sui generis, combining elements of Lovecraftian horror (territory with which Corben is intimately familiar) and Native American lore. In a nutshell, it tells the story of Clark Elwood, a bookish Miskatonic University professor who falls in love (sort of) with a Native American co-ed named Kito Hontz, who hails from a strange small town in the Pacific Northwest. After a nasty tiff that puts the kaibosh on their burgeoning romance, Kito splits from campus and a regretful Clark decides to drive out to her homeland to try apologize and win her back.


The story is quite good, with exciting action, convincingly concocted and original esoterica, a number of intriguing characterizations, and odd plot twists a-plenty. It also contains surprisingly mature and measured riffs on Lovecraft's all-too-human flaw of racism, and the human wreckage such beliefs can cause. You can learn more about what Corben was attempting to do in this interview with Comic Book Resources.

Of course, RAT GOD's biggest draw, as is so often the case with Corben, is the artwork.

Running the gamut, from the gorgeous lush greenery of dense evergreen forests to the grisly, gruesome carnage of rat-infested sacrificial death-pits, Corben clearly put everything he's got on the pages with this, his most visually satisfying long-form work in well over a decade. His use of color to set an emotional tone in particular has never been more assured or successful.

The fourth issue, as an example, has Clark sneaking his way into an "Eyes Wide Shut" style costume ball, and it features some of the most beautifully evocative costume designs that I've ever seen. Each costume was unique, but they all felt of a piece, as though whoever created them was harkening to some long-forgotten esoteric aesthetic... which, considering this is Corben we're talking about, probably isn't that far from the truth.

If you missed this series, which ran from February to June of this year, don't despair. I imagine a reasonably-priced volume collecting all five issues in a single book will be hitting bookstore shelves within a month or two. When it does, don't fight the urge to splurge. RAT GOD is going to go down in comics history as one of Richard Corben's finest works, which instantly puts it in the running for Best Limited Series Comic of 2015.

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