Rasputin, the so-called “mad monk” of Russia who gained influence in the days of the last Tsar, has fascinated many history-buffs for decades. He was mysterious, said to have healing powers, and thanks to his creepy appearance has seen many creative types re-imagine him as something even stranger than he actually was. The latest of these creators is Alex Grecian, who along with artist Riley Rossmo has produced Rasputin #1 – a comic just as strange as the man himself, but not necessarily in a good way. Rasputin #1 is flawed, not bad, but definitely flawed. This first issue tells the story of Rasputin’s origins, with all the artistic licensing common in historical Hollywood movies. Without giving too much away, the book opens with an older Rasputin dining with those he is closest to and supposedly about to be poisoned. We are then taken back in time to see Rasputin as a child, as he and his mother are mistreated by an abusive father. Then magic spells happen and things get a little more interesting.
Unfortunately while this story has memorable moments and certainly has potential to improve, this isn’t a flawless debut. First of all, the plot device of a young child being shaped by seeing their abusive father hurt their helpless mother is ridiculously over-used these days. This scenario has played out in so many stories that I can’t help but feel a little desensitized to it at this point. In terms of crafting a compelling narrative this simply isn’t anywhere near as effective as it once was, especially as it doesn’t seem like these were the experiences of the real Rasputin. Meanwhile, when it comes to the supernatural elements which were the source of this issue’s most entertaining moments, I felt they were a little underused.
I understand that Grecian wouldn’t have wanted to lay all his cards on the table this early in the series, but a little more on this element would have gone a long way. Additionally, this issue is very light on dialogue and while the outstanding artwork of Riley Rossmo is more than capable of depicting scenes with no explanation necessary, it makes it harder still to get on board with the protagonist of this series. Come the end of Rasputin #1, all we really know about the titular character is that he had a bad childhood and he might get poisoned. That’s literally it, and that doesn’t create many reasons to get excited.
But I didn’t hate Rasputin #1 - far from it. In fact, I think it did have some great elements. As I mentioned before the artwork in this book is exceptional. It’s very stylish and fits perfectly with a dark story such as this one. Meanwhile the colouring by Ivan Plascencia gives the book a mysterious, almost sinister tone that works perfectly with the story’s best moments. I worry I’ve been overly negative so far in this review so I want to stress that this book does have a lot of potential. The concept of Rasputin having some kind of magical power is something that I’m very interested to find out more about, and the way this issue ended has also left me curious for what the second entry has in store. Not to mention that the story of this first issue, while flawed, is by no means awful and does have some nice twists that keep things interesting.
Ultimately, I would say Rasputin #1 is worth taking a gamble on if you have room in your comic-buying budget for a wild card. It shows a lot of potential to grow into something great in the next few months, and the artwork alone is almost worth the price of admission. But at the same time, due to its shortcomings Rasputin #1 isn’t exactly a must-buy, so if you’re cutting back your pull list you could forgive yourself for giving this one a miss.
Writer: Alex Grecian Artist: Riley Rossmo Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 10/29/14 Format: Print/Digital