Acclaimed American illustrator and Will Eisner Award Hall of Famer Richard Corben brings us Rat God, the tale of “an arrogant city slicker on a quest to uncover the background of a young woman from the backwoods [who] finds horrors beyond imagining, [the story] combining Lovecraftian mutations with Native American legends.”
Sounds full of win. Is it good?
Rat God #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
Rat God opens in an old forest, with an indigenous brother and sister pair (Achak and Kito) fleeing through a maze of towering, mossgrown trees. What they’re running from isn’t clear, but a bombast-charged narrator providing commentary such as: “A sinister entity stalked the prehistoric globally vast taiga” and “An unearthly visage leered menacingly,” the entire time lets us know it probably isn’t good.
Sparse-styled Hemingway this is not, though we learn soon enough the reason for the purple-prose: A strange, patch-eyed old man who takes direct involvement in the yarn he’s spinning.
Though Rat God’s dialogue and narration comes off a little clunky, Corben’s art is anything but. The man is regarded as a virtuoso, an artist’s artist — and with good reason. He doesn’t floss too much in this issue, but skill still radiates from every page. The way he draws people is very much his own: they are at once caricaturistic, outlandish and freakish-looking — but commensurately palpable; so real you can almost hear them breathing; feel anguish or wonderment or fear from one look at their faces.
Corben doesn’t stop there. His landscapes, especially in the first half of the book are immersive. Mesmeric. His use of coloring is impressive. The teeming greenery of the forest constitutes a panel border in one instance, while masterful use of white space washes over another; texture gradients abound; the action sequences are grisly and fluid; I’m sure there are artistic techniques being used here that I don’t even know about, but it’s a pleasure to drink it in and bask in all the pretty layers. Of course, Corben can switch it up and draw a scene that’ll creep you right the hell out, too. Like this one:
It’s almost a shame that the entire issue doesn’t take place with our Native siblings, as the opening sequence is a lot of fun. The narrative takes a drastic shift soon after Kito waits to meet her brother at the river, and the scene goes from primeval forest to sometime in the early 1900s, evident as a Ford Model T chugs over a rusted hulk of a bridge and seems to interrupt what might have been a dream-sequence or a flashback.
The “city slicker” from the book’s elevator pitch is a bit of an asshole. There’s not much to like about him, and his portion of the book drags in comparison to the first, but Corben’s foreshadowing points to the man having a redemption arc amidst ominous forces that are looming, still unseen. Could be interesting.
Is It Good?
Placing a numerical score on the premiere issue of Rat God is a difficult task, as it’s clear that the first issue is only the framework. It’s unclear what evils are at work, what role the narrator plays, who we’ll be rooting for or even if we’ll remain in one time period, but Corben has provided with enough thought-provocation in the premiere to warrant a purchase of issue #2.
And that art, though. Even if you’re not familiar with Corben’s work, the book is worth a flip-through on account of its uniqueness, its idiosyncratic style. I almost wish that Corben had worked with another writer so that he could focus more on the art/tighten up some of the dialogue and pacing, but this is his baby to tell and it’s worthy of waiting to see how it all unfolds.