By J. Keith Haney
Corben, Richard; Margopoulos, Rich. Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allan Poe. Marvel MAX (October 2006). $19.99 USD. 112 pp. ISBN 978-0785122791.
Though he has been a comic artist for four decades, it wasn’t until the late 1990s that I ran into Richard Corben. Watching his artwork in Marvel Comics miniseries like Banner and Cage, as well as DC Comics anthologies like Weird War Tales and Batman: Black and White, was a revelation. Its intense 3-D quality, along with the exaggerated physical characteristics of his people (big muscles and/or breast, distorted facial features), and bleak backgrounds (encompassing horrors from the mundane ghettoes and prisons to the more fantastic post-apocalyptic landscapes and dimension of cosmic scope), recall nothing less than German Expressionist art in the 1920s. Corben has mastered its central tenet that outer should always reflect the inward nature of man. Therefore, what better artist to adapt that famous and infamous American godfather of Goth, Edgar Allan Poe? The results can be seen in the collected of the Marvel MAX miniseries, Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allan Poe.
At this point, some of you are probably thinking that Corben (and frequent writing collaborator, Rich Margopoulos) merely took Poe’s prose and just drew what dear Edgar wrote. You would be wrong on two counts. First, a good many of the adaptations are from Poe’s POETRY (a particularly inspired move that Corben would repeat in Haunt of Horror: Lovecraft). Second, the stories Corben and Margopoulos construct from almost all of the source material (especially the poems) are tales you would never associate with Poe. “The Conqueror Worm” tells of post-apocalyptic deception and betrayal. “Israfael” (spelling changed to the more ghetto “Izrafael”) takes Poe’s ode to an angel mentioned in the Quran and turns it into the gangland shooting of a rap star. “The Happiest Day” becomes the story of yet another shooting spree, this time at a high school reunion.
Even the mostly faithful adaptations take unexpected turns that Roger Corman would have approved of. “The Raven” follows the track of “the lost Lenore” of the poem to a chilling conclusion as to how she died. “The Tell-Tale Heart”, Poe’s eternally relevant tale of murder and guilt, has a surprise twist ending as to the source of the beating heart the narrator hears.
It is, by and large, a film director’s approach to the material. Anyone who bemoans the lack of straight adaptations from book to film is missing the point made here. Artistic mediums have points of intersection, but they are rarely, if ever, interchangeable. Thus, what might work on the printed page will fall flat on the silver screen and vice versa. The best adaptations are always the ones who stay as true to the source material as possible, but also go in their own direction with ideas that build on the basic foundations. The very fact that Poe’s work is so well-known is something that Corben uses to his advantage to ambush his readers.
The one annoyance that this volume contains is the very unfunny “Uncle Deadgar”, a skeletal, red-eyed figure in a hooded robe (also sporting Poe’s distinctive mustache) at the start of each individual book. I realize that he is a throwback to such EC Comics masters of ceremonies as the Cryptkeeper and Uncle Creepy, but he adds nothing of value to the collection. After the first read of the material, I found myself skipping over those sections to get to the stories. He is a distraction, pure and simple.
That said, this collection proves that if you think you know Poe, you might want to reconsider your position. Corben’s subtext is most subversive: however much the names and faces change, the horrors of this life remain exactly the same. Seriously consider this one for a Halloween gift (why wait ’till Christmas?).
Bio: J. Keith Haney is a recovering game addict, collector of classic comic stories, and general man of mystery.
You can purchase Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allan Poe through Amazon.com.