Friday, September 30, 2011

Chronic Review: Rachel Rising # 2!

Rachel Rising # 2
Abstract Studio
Script/Pencils:    Terry Moore
(Basically) 18 pages for $3.99

Rachel Rising is the story of a girl who wakes up in the ground.  She's pretty, she's pretty sure she's dead, she's pretty sure somebody made her that way on purpose, and she's pretty sure she wants to figure out who did the deed.  It's a horror mystery, and as horror mysteries go, it seems to be a pretty darned good one.

This is all Terry Moore, of course, because everything is what he does.  Robyn Moore (I'm assuming his wife?) is listed with a publisher credit, but the rest is Mr. Terry Moore, and you just don't see that much these days.  Erik Larsen on Savage Dragon, yup.  (If he's not doing everything, it's awfully close)  Dave Sim, sure, but he's not monthly at this stage in his career, not that I'm suggesting he should be.  You crank out the longest sustained narrative possibly in the history of can work at your own pace without hearing any bitching from the Layla Miller of podcasting.

My point is that I can't help but hold a reserve of respect and admiration for Moore's work, because what he's doing is very rare and I have to assume arduous.  That probably shouldn't play into how I perceive the narrative on the page, though.  I shouldn't, but I think it does.  I'm just announcing that fact as an attempt to play fair with the reader and announce my probable bias, and you can do with that what you will.

So we have poor dead Rachel, or do we?  At least some folks can see her, and when they do, they claim she isn't Rachel.  And we don't know for sure that she's dead, but she pretty much has to be.  Rachel doesn't think she's dead, though.  She doesn't behave much like a ghost, either.  She can get inside her Aunt Johnny's car and physically grab him, for example.  She's got scars around her neck.  Nothing is exactly clear at this point, which is precisely as it should be in the second installment of a murder mystery, or you've failed at the mystery part.

Aunt Johnny is a bit of a nut, and in fact everyone in the comic is eccentric in some way.  When Rachel first visits Johnny at the Underwood Mortuary, he presumes her to be a figment of his imagination, yet has a lengthy conversation without a blip.  Over in the B plot there's a little girl named Zoe.  I won't ruin how deep her eccentricity runs, but I will say you might be surprised how creepy a grade schooler can get with nothing sharper than a roll or plastic wrap.

Rachel Rising is quirky, character driven, surprising, and ominous.  These are all good things to be.  If I were to nitpick, I might critique the actual volume of content presented.  The first page is mostly black, with a woodsy silhouette and an Edward Munch quote.  The back page was essentially credits.  In between 18 pages of black and white story.  I think $3.99 is a lot to pay for 18 pages of narrative, but if you put it on the satisfaction scale, I wouldn't say I felt cheated.

Rachel Rising # 2 introduced the character of Aunt Johnny with some depth and craft.  We know a lot about his world view, and how the relationship between he and Rachel works and has worked in the past.  We know that he does embalming work, and from him we know several discomforting historical facts about where Rachel was buried.  Every nugget of every panel feels like it has some portent to the bigger picture, and as I passed through the panels I found myself making a mental inventory of flash facts to fill in the blanks for later.  It's a good comic that makes you do that, and an efficient one.  Plenty happened in the "limited" space available.

Do not mess with Zoe.  Trust me.
It's hard to tell right now what the B plot with Zoe has to do with the A plot, but it certainly provided a stunner toward the end!  The danger in writing an extended mystery is to allow the reader to feel that things are dragging, that the "real action" is further down the road, and that time is being wasted with filler until the main course is served.

Not so in either of the first two issues of Rachel Rising.  As I read this title, I don't get the sense that these issues are dangled empty carrots in front of a one trick pony.  The pony appears capable of doing tricks every month.  I'm trying right now to compare it to something, and I'm having difficulty.  May, perhaps?  I'm thinking of May because it's mostly about people, but there's an undercurrent of skin crawling involved.  The comparison doesn't feel quite right, though, probably because none of the menace is emanating from Rachel herself.  For now.  Anything feels possible in this book, which is solidly horror without question, but not a strictly gruesome.  Nothing is allowed to quite feel "safe" in this comic, if that makes any sense.  And if that's your brand of chills, than you need to ask your retailer to order Rachel Rising, because unfortunately the odds are good they aren't doing it otherwise. 

- Ryan

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