Written and Art by Richard Corben
Two famous stories of death and terror from one of America’s most preeminent 19th century poets comes to the comic page as writer/artist Richard Corben adapts Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven and The Masque of the Red Death in a single-issue comic. Are these worthy translations from poetry and prose to sequential art?
This comic follows a traveler witnessing two of Poe’s most famous works – The Raven and The Masque of the Red Death – although the traveler is only in one panel of the Raven portion. The book itself is divided into the two different stories.
Starting with The Raven, Corben takes some departures from Poe’s poem in creating both an oddly literal and surreal story at the same time. The narrator, given the name Arnold in this book, goes back and forth from loneliness to being with his love Lenore. The raven comes to torment him with the familiar “nevermore” line, and he hits a lot of the same beats. What will be off-putting to some will be Corben’s take on the poem’s descriptions taking a much more literal and grotesque form.
The Masque of the Red Death also follows the same general premise with some exceptions, although more minor than the former. A king hosts a party for the wealthy as the common folk die of a plague, and at this party, it seems death itself arrives to balance the scales.
Both stories lack the lyrical feel of Poe’s words, except when they actually use Poe’s words. Corben’s character dialog isn’t as captivating as Poe’s word play. In The Masque of the Red Death portion, he also wastes a lot of time with setting up a storyteller and his traveler, time that could have been better spent in the meat of the story.
On their own, without a Poe comparison, the stories are told almost too quickly for readers to invest themselves into them. The stories pop from scene to scene without the audience getting to connect to the frantic breakdown of The Raven’s narrator or the partiers’ sudden terror.
Corben also takes the art duties for both stories. The art in the book – a dingy look with dark coloring and long faces with exaggerated features – fits the grim and gloomy story telling. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but that could be intentional.
I would have preferred the art to follow along with something more sticking to the original works than Corben’s particular interpretations though, especially for The Raven. The Masque of the Red Death portion also could have benefited from an extra page or two of the multiple rooms of the party, especially following the masked death through them all. Instead only a slight montage during the party’s description is all that shows how large this party is.
Overall (Not an Average)
Unfortunately, this book doesn’t bring much to the table. As a new look on Poe’s works, this book still sticks too closely to the setting and characters to offer any inventive or refreshing takes. Perhaps this is best used for introducing children into Poe’s concepts in a simpler, visual medium, but only as a supplement. Being too compact and with blander dialog, it’s no substitute.