Adaptation and Art by: Richard Corben
Edgar Allan Poe is considered one of the great American writers of all-time and is one of the progenitors for the fiction genre we know today as horror (he’s also the original Goth kid for you South Park watchers). Richard Corben on the other hand, is one of the great, if not the greatest, horror artists comics has ever seen. His prolific career has lead him to be inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame. So combining these two should have been a slam dunk for Dark Horse comics, and I’m sure that’s what they had on the menu when the idea was pitched. But in actual fact, Edgar Allan Poe’s Morella & The Murders in the Rue Morgue doesn’t deliver the hauntingly beautiful product it should have.
There are two major reasons behind the instrumental failure of this book to deliver a product worthy of the names on the front. Most importantly is that whenever you adapt something that was written by Poe, you’re automatically missing the thing that made it great in the first place: Poe’s writing. Likewise, the other major problem is that Corben is handcuffed to two stories that don’t necessarily translate well to the comic medium. He is an unparalleled talent with creepy stories involving the supernatural but neither story here really allows him to draw on that strength and experience.
Reading this one-shot it became apparent that the transition from prose to comic script didn’t enhance Morella or The Murders in the Rue Morgue at all. In fact, the transition really hurt both tales. Having Corben’s strong visuals doesn’t make up for the fact that the brilliance of Poe, and his contemporaries, is not necessary in the actual story itself – we’ve come a long way since then, and to our betterment I’d suggest. Instead, what Poe does better than most, is write beautifully. Even though a majority of his work is dark and macabre when you actually dig down into the meat of his ability as a writer and a storyteller, what you’ll find is a shocking level of detail and a complex mind that enables Poe to reach for metaphors, allegories, and allusions that are on a deeper level than most.
Morella especially didn’t translate well to the comic book page. Not only did Corben’s adaptation greatly change the plot of the short story, it unfortunately cut out the deeper intention behind the original. Poe really focuses on identity, and without giving away the story, what happens to one’s identity after death. This adaptation is like an iceberg; there is a vast amount here that we cannot see and that is a detriment to the quality of this comic.
Artistically you can’t complain about the quality of the artwork on the page, because it’s Corben and thus it’s exceptional in composition and execution. However, what’s not on the page is the problem. Corben doesn’t fully explore the idea behind the story here, a decaying wife and a troubled husband, and the issue of identity and its relation to death. The art can only do so much to enhance what seems like a $10,000 idea shoved into a $5 box.
If we turn our focus to The Murders in the Rue Morgue, we once again will find an adaptation that is greatly lacking the respect of the source material that is needed to make this comic worthy of the great creators involved.
The reason why that particular short story is considered among Poe’s greatest is that it is believed to have been the first appearance of a detective in fiction. I’m sure I don’t need to explain the importance of that trend taking hold. Yet this comic doesn’t seem to grasp the profundity of that accomplishment, something that hindsight has given us an even better perspective of.
The story itself isn’t presented in a compelling way, unlike the original, either. The Murders in the Rue Morgue takes place in Paris, a city rife with visual splendor, but the comic doesn’t show us enough of what the city looked like at the time of the story. Sweeping landscape shots are absent and the morbidity and grittiness that should have been present are missing as well.
The story itself is a metaphor for our treatment of animals, our animalistic nature and instincts, and human traits pushed onto animals. None of these concepts are explored very well by this book. When read, the story should evoke thoughts and feelings about how connected to other life we are and how, at the end of the day, we’re not so different from animals (which modern science has proven beyond doubt). Humans have evolved past the other species on Earth in terms of intelligence and capability but our primal traits, the ones that kept us alive on the plains of Africa, are still active (passively) in each one of us. This is a powerful angle to explore but it’s glossed over too quickly.
I was really disappointed by this book. I came in with great expectations and was left with a hollow shell of stories that I really love. Literature is one of the most important things we have ever created and this adaptation did not do justice to the beloved American icon, that very first Goth kid. Richard Corben at least makes the book pleasing to the eye on the surface but the fact that this comic lacks any meat on the bone really makes it something you should avoid unless you’re a diehard collector of Poe, Corben or both.
“Morella and The Murderers in the Rue Morgue One-Shot” earns 4.9/10