Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Rachel Rising: The Shadow of Death review

Terry Moore is the real deal. I first encountered his work with Strangers in Paradise, a huge and incredible story about best friends Katchoo and Francine and their relationship through the years. I had sampled some of the stories after reading some pretty great things about it in online. I later bought the series for my fiancé (then girlfriend) to try and get her to explore comics and share in something that I love. She’s read the entire 100+ issues twice. She’s as big a fan of Strangers in Paradise as I am, if not more. Since then, I’ve followed Moore’s work to Runaways and Echo up to his later self-published creation: Rachel Rising.

For those who don’t know him, Terry Moore is one of the most successful self-published comic creators, all the way up there with Jeff Smith of Bone fame and Dave Sim, creator of Cerebus. He publishes his comics through Abstract Studios which he managers with his wife. The simple reason why I think Moore is so great is that his work is consistently excellent. The art is spectacular, combining expressive quality and a sense of realism. His writing can also be very poignant and though Strangers in Paradise does have inconsistencies, his later work on Echo clearly demonstrated that Moore can work with a tighter focus on the writing side as well as the art. It’s that seamless quality of the writer/artist, the guy who does it all, that boosts his work into a level of quality rarely met by the output of corporation comics publishers such as Marvel or DC.

Rachel Rising immediately differentiates itself from Moore’s previous work because it focuses on a different genre than the other two of his major works. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Moore creator a horror story but this first volume clearly shows he’s got what it takes to create a great horror comic. The story begins with the eponymous Rachel clawing out of a shallow grave in the middle of a forest outside a small North-eastern town in the US. She can’t remember what happened or how she ever ended up in the strange situation she found herself in. The only problem is that people in town are telling her she’s not Rachel and it’s easy to understand why, with her pale complexion, her bloodshot, she looks more like a corpse. As she tries to unravel the mysteries surrounding her apparent death, Rachel gets caught up into all sorts of trouble as Moore creeps the hell out of his readers.

Everything takes place in a small town called Mason which Moore infuses with that gothic horror feelings that small towns often have in horror fiction. I get the feeling that Mason is one of those towns in which there would have been witch hunts in colonial times what with the mass grave in the woods right outside of town and everything. Rachel Rising is a horror comic that is actually concerned with tension, pacing and giving the reader the creeps. I’m genuinely surprised that Moore is able to pull all of that off because I would never have suspected it. In the past he’s shown that he’s adept at building suspense and mystery but it’s the creep-factor that’s completely new here and I enjoyed it. Is it weird that I loved being creeped out by the characters in this book? I mean Lilith and Zoe are very creepy! It’s made all the more impressive because Moore also made me smile and laugh a few times. He shouldn’t be allowed to create something that will delight and freak me out at the same time. Some people have all the talent and know just how to use it to their advantage, eh? Terry Moore, the read deal.

I have to specify that this isn’t a slasher comic though there is plenty of blood and gore. Moore present the violence in a specific context and that’s what make it work. He’s not exploiting the violence or the people who are on the receiving end of that violence. That’s one of the key elements of Moore’s body of work, actually. He presents everything form a humanist point of view. The reason the violence and the horror are so effective is that he immediately made me care about the characters. Rachel, Jet, Aunt Johnny, Zoe, they’re all very interesting characters and when they’re put into threatening situations, Moore knows how to present it in a way that will make me care about the story, the characters which results in my investment in the story and characters. He makes it look so easy!

Moore’s stories are always centred around the lives of one or more women. Some people might think this suggest his comics are for a female audience or that Moore has a desire to inject a dose of feminism into the comics industry. Neither or those things are inherently bad but that’s neither of those things is the focus here. If anything, Moore’s work is one of the better example of gender-neutral comics. Both men and women play important roles in his work and both sexes are portrayed in position and negative ways. More importantly, his characters actions are done in service to the story or for character development which is the best way to handle things.

Rachel Rising isn’t just good because of the writing but also because of the art. Moore is an excellent artist. He draws people of all shapes and sizes which make his fictional world look and feel real. He also draws hair and woman like it’s nobody’s business. The way he draws Zoe’s braid is just great. Does I elevate the story? No, not at all but just look at those breads! I can’t get over how much I think Zoe’s hair looks great.

I like how his art has a sketchy quality to it but it maintains this look without also looking incomplete like an actual sketch would look. I really enjoy the black and white and I think that’s part of what gives the finish are that sketchy look. Moore has a very specific line work and I think he would have to clean it up in order to be able to colour it effectively. I’m probably wrong of course. I don’t understand art nearly as much as a should considering just how much I love comics and just how many of them I read. There’s assuredly a style of colouring or a technique that could be used to great effect on Moore’s art as it is, without requiring any tweaks on his part. Still, you can see a cleaner version of his art on the cover work for Strangers in Paradise and Echo. Lucky for me, the covers for Rachel Rising are even sketchier than the interior art and I think it works well with the tone of this particular story. I also like to use of just a few colours on the cover art because it adds to the tone.

I’m not a fan of horror. It’s not a genre I actively seek out. I actually try and avoid it because the stuff I have sampled was just rubbish, exploitive and self-involved. That my previous experience with Moore’s body of work is enough to compel me to buy a horror comic should be enough to convince people that he’s a creator worth following. I know that I’ll be sticking around in part to spend more time with Rachel and Aunt Johnny (she’s great) but also to see Moore work his magic in stark black and white. He captures a certain truth about humanity in his art and his writing and Rachel Rising seems poised to show us the very best and the very worst of the inhabitants of Mason. I know I’ll be sticking around until the end of the series. I can’t wait to read the rest. 

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