Monday, November 3, 2014

"I'm quite certain the wine's been poisoned." Rasputin #1 review

Rasputin is a new Image comic book series from creators Alex Grecian (writer) & Riley Rossmo (artist), collaborators best-known for their series Proof. In the interests of disclosure, I should mention I contributed a series of character profiles for their series Proof: Endangered; Riley is a long-held acquaintence and both are facebook friends of mine. With that out of the way, what's their current project like?

Rasputin launched only last week, barely before Halloween. As the title suggests, the lead figure is the historical Grigori Rasputin who was associated with the family of Tsar Nicholas and most infamous for the unusual way he died (drowning after surviving poison, stabbing, shooting and beating). The various "mysteries of the unexplained" books made a lot of hay out of Rasputin's death and books such as those would be where I first learned of him. Beyond those books and a grade 11 curriculum which included viewing the 1971 film Nicholas and Alexandria, that's the extent of my knowledge.

However, the back cover references another film - The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - when it quotes, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Thus, although the historical Rasputin was likely not a master of mystic arts, we're in the realm of fiction here - the historical record is merely a jumping-off point.

Because Grecian & Rossmo are dealing with a well-known historical story, it's interesting to see how they chose to approach the subject of Rasputin's death; the issue opens with Rasputin poisoned to drink the poisoned wine which will (at least in the historical version) soon lead to his demise. Rather than a slow burn to this moment, Grecian & Rossmo put out there in the first issue. While it's not quite clear where the story is going to carry on from here, there's a sense that they're not holding back from the audience, rather putting their strongest foot forward. It actually takes a little chutzpah to open their first story by tackling the lead character's last story. It suggests they're not only free from fidelity to the historical account, but free to subvert the audience's expectations.

The bulk of the issue is devoted to a flashback to Rasputin's youth in Siberia. These events serve to affirm his mystic powers and demonstrate something of his conscience. The flashback portion is very light on dialogue - so much so that if you told your local comic dealer to tie his shoelace, you might have the entire script read by the time he looked up again. However, you'd be cheating yourself out of some very fine storytelling if you did.

The emphasis on telling the flashback story of young Rasputin and his father with very few words is an interesting show of 1) Grecian's humility, 2) Rossmo's confidence & 3) the ease of the duo's collaboration. It's at this point that I noticed Rasputin is a property owned jointly by Grecian & Rossmo. I think it's worth pointing this out since we still live in a time of "auteur theory comics" where writers (like Image's own Robert Kirkman) take all the ownership of their properties, sharing none with their artists. It's something Steve Ditko once noted when reacting to Stan Lee being called Spider-Man's sole creator - that the final creation was incomplete until Ditko's visuals brought it to life. If these writers are so hot, why aren't they selling their stories as prose? This is a story told by Grecian and Rossmo, not "a Grecian story adapted by Rossmo." Telling the death of Rasputin's father almost completely through visuals points to that.

I made a passing reference to Rasputin's conscience above. The flashback explores his character not through the lengthy monologues most writers adore, but through action and (intriguingly) inaction. Rasputin uses his powers to heal his mother; he uses his powers to save the life of a bear; he pointedly does not use his powers to save his father. All of this in virtual silence.

I don't know where Grecian & Rossmo will take this, but having followed them from start to finish on Proof, I have confidence the journey will be engaging!

1 comment:

mjjhoskin said...

Sounds good -- and intriguing, big bro!