The Raven and the Red Death
Written by Richard Corben
Illustrated by Richard Corben
Lettered by Nate Piekos of Blambot
Cover by Richard Corben
Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: October 30, 2013
Cover Price: $3.99
Readers like Edgar Allan Poe’s work for the way it makes them feel; for how it sucks them into his worlds and sneakily crawls under their skin. Poe’s tales and poetry — including both The Raven and The Mask of the Red Death — settle slowly and move along naturally, allowing mystery, wonder and thrill to develop in one’s mind before the real horror appears.
Dark Horse’s site describes Richard Corben‘s adaptation for Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven and The Red Death as “terrifying.” The only issue is, they aren’t scary. Corben utilizes his recurring character of “Mag the Hag” as a traveler who ends up looping through or walking in on the stories. Before I researched who Mag was, my only introduction to her was on the cover page (very nicely drawn by Corben) and on page one of the comic, where she interrupts the narrator’s musings in The Raven with the cheeky line: “The weather has put young Arnold in a melancholy mood, leading him to grimly narrate his own evening in verse.” Now, in casual conversation, this might be a humorous detail to note about The Raven, but in terms of the story, it disrupts any possibility of the reader getting involved or spooked at all.
We then see Lenore — thank goodness she is just a figment of “Arnold’s” imagination — and the raven’s tapping continues. I could forgive Corben’s decision to show Lenore (although I’d rather have her as a distant or ghostly memory) if he didn’t go on to muddle the tone of the rest of the story. In the original, we remember it being quiet; we envision a dark and creaky floor; we see the raven perching on the chamber door. In the comic, the next sequence moves quickly: the raven bursts through the doors and attacks the man, we see blood everywhere and “Arnold” is mortally wounded. By the time I finished reading, I wasn’t sure what had just happened and had to look it over a couple more times. Because Corben’s tale moves so quickly, the suspense and the horror is lost. It seems ironic and it feigns humor. I would almost appreciate it more if Corben just went all the way and turned Arnold into a flesh-eating zombie at the end. Oh, well.
Mag the Hag is featured much more in The Red Death; she is a traveler, and a cloaked and hooded man tells her the tale of the palace, the realm, the ruler, and the red death. The drawings are exaggerated, whimsical, and detailed; the colors are bright. The king is drawn and written in a goofy manner. Again, Corben pokes fun at Poe’s plot choices when we read that instead of helping out the diseased and dying kingdom, the ruler says, “Or…I could throw a party!” I actually did enjoy most of this story; it was exciting to get a view into the ornate rooms, the ridiculous guests (who reminded me somewhat of citizens of The Capital in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series), and finally, what becomes of them. Zooming away from the story, when it is predictably revealed who the storyteller is, Mag the Hag runs away and says, “Well…I don’t want to keep you…! I’ll just be moving along…!”
Although The Raven and The Red Death is a valid effort in putting a personal twist on two classics, it strays too far from the heart of the originals and almost does not compare at all. It’s possible I missed the point of the irony in it all, but the plots were disjointed and confusing, and the jokes fell flat. I was looking for a Halloween spook-fest and unfortunately, by the end, I was wishing for the red death.