Review: Edgar Allan Poe’s Spirits of the Dead

In the intro to this beautifully illustrated adaptation of Poe’s poem, M. Thomas Inge comments that “Everything in a [Richard] Corben page is functional, and that there are no empty artistic gestures to fill space.  Every image… contributes to an aesthetic experience that is profound and disturbing” (10).  No better words describe the expertly illustrated haunting tales that sprang from the inspiration of America’s horror progenitor. In the first story of the anthology, “Alone,” a man named Solomon comes to understand the nature of his macabre dreams.  “The City in the Sea” features a sea captain who comes ashore on an island of the dead.  Pay particular attention to the illustrations in this one, for the images are of a perspective unique to the typical comic art while the detailing on everything from the robes to the looks on the faces of the men show great skill.  In “The Sleeper,” a tragic love story reveals horrific consequences for a taboo relationship.  “The Assignation” sees a gondolier rescue a baby and uncover a terrible reward.  Anyone with a fear of teeth or dental work will shiver at the story “Berenice.”   “Morella” shows that the grave does not mean final rest for wicked lovers.  “Shadow” transports readers way back in time to show that evil is eternal.

Edgar Allan Poe's Spirits of the Dead 10.1.14Three longer works then faithfully bring Poe’s famous works into the comic medium courtesy of Corben’s talented artistry.  ‘The Fall of the House of Usher” adapts Poe’s shocking tale of incest and family curses.   And “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” chronicle the exploits of the first detective story.  Readers unfamiliar with Poe and this story will be treated with a surprise as the murderer is revealed.  The symbolism and dread emerge from the text of “The Masque of the Red Death” to a beautifully drawn tale of a king celebrating while his citizenry deals with a nasty plague.  Justice comes for Prospero and all those of the court who chose to ignore the suffering of the lowly; such hubris begets only punishment.

“The Conqueror Worm” brings the horror to the Wild West, where Indians and puppetry come together in a tale of mortality and morality.  If readers fear graveyards, then “The Premature Burial” will instill paralytic fright with its use of reanimated corpses and shadowy cemeteries.  “The Raven” takes away the narration and replaces it with illustration to present the poem in a new way.  “The Cask of Amontillado,” features Montresor taking Mrs. Fortunato down into the catacombs to explain what happened to her husband.  While I do enjoy the nature of Poe’s version being a confessional tale, this version does suffice.

Poe would be pleased with this brilliant collection adapting his tales into art that is part masterpiece and part nightmare.  Corben makes the tales his own with nuances that serve the illustrated medium well.  Having taught many of these texts in classes over the years, I see the understanding of the source work blended with the adept storytelling ability to make them sequential art.

If anyone asks for examples of the best horror comics, I will recommend reading the old E.C. Comics titles and this, Corben’s grand ode to Poe.

Score: 5/5

Adaptation/Artist: Richard Corben Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $24.99 Release Date: 10/1/14 Format: TPB; Print/Digital