A tale of an ancient evil that was once vanquished, but is on the verge of revival alongside one of the most ancient of tales: rescuing an endangered loved one. Rachel Deering explores the costs and hardships one will face in the name of love. Is it good?
Anathema Vol. 1: The Evil That Men Do (Titan Comics)
Anathema Vol. 1: The Evil That Men Do takes you on a dangerous journey fraught with fantastical creatures and people afraid of those that are different from them. The story follows Mercy Barlowe as she sets out on a treacherous path to save her lover Sarah’s soul from the clutches of evil and details the sacrifices she makes in order to redeem Sarah.
Rachel Deering begins Anathema with a deeply compelling and emotional hook. Sarah has been captured by her father and is condemned to burn at the stake for the abomination of lying with another woman, but a worse fate than burning befalls Sarah. Her soul is captured by wicked ravens who aim to resurrect an ancient evil very much like Dracula. It is a very straight-forward premise. However, within a few short pages, you are inextricably tied to Mercy’s fury, guilt, and torment as she manifests her emotions into physical form. With the drop of a potion, she transforms herself into a werewolf and begins her quest to rescue Sarah’s soul.
Deering touches on a number of themes, but doesn’t fully explore them, leaving them in the back of your mind to contemplate. She looks at the meaning of good and evil, the power of fear, the definition of solitude, and the depths one will go to for redemption. In order to touch on these themes, she uses Mercy’s internal dialogue which appropriately fits her character. Mercy would be posing these huge questions after her traumatic experience, but she doesn’t have time to fully contemplate them. She is on a mission and it takes priority.
Not only does Deering touch on themes, but she uses quite a bit of nature and possibly mythology to influence her writing as well as provides some potential foreshadowing. In Tlingit and Inuit culture ravens appear as “form-changing wise guys and tricksters, taking advantage of both humans and wolves.” While in nature, ravens and wolves have a symbiotic relationship where ravens scavenge wolf kills and ravens lead wolves to prey or tough carcasses that the ravens’ beaks are unable to break down. Deering captures the tales of ravens as tricksters and combines it with their natural ability to lead wolves to prey they are unable to defeat to craft an interesting dynamic between Mercy and the ravens, who have taken Sarah’s soul.
If there is a complaint to be made about Deering’s storytelling technique, it is she uses a very similar technique for the second and third chapters of the book. They both begin with compelling character development moments and lead up to a clash with a ferocious beast.
Chris Mooneyham’s artwork is very reminiscent of his work in Five Ghosts, but he adds a layer of darkness that is not present in Five Ghosts. This layer of darkness is present in almost every panel, reminding you of the dangers and horrors of the world of Anathema. Mooneyham delivers on the dangers and horrors as well. His monster creations are wonderful to look at, from a giant frog-like creature with razor sharp teeth and a mass of tangled hair to a demonic creature with the body of a man and the head of a goat skull. The action sequences are well paced, using small panels to depict quick, hard hitting battle scenes that transition into larger panels showing the resultant effects. There is one page that really stood out for its lack of traditional panels, but excellently depicts the transformation of Mercy into a werewolf, capturing each stage from woman to beast.
Mooneyham is also able to capture the human character’s emotions, whether Mercy is in fear from a haunting vision of Sarah or the hate glowing in her eyes as she learns of a dead Raven. Sadly though, these emotions are completely lacking when Mercy is in her werewolf form.
Is It Good?
Anathema Vol. 1: The Evil That Men Do is a classic story of protecting one’s love from the clutches of evil and the journey one takes to get there. However, Deering and Mooneyham make it much more than a classic story. It is emotionally gripping, filled with layers of symbolism. Deering has crafted a relatable and human character in Mercy Barlowe even when the beast is awakened within her. I look forward to the next installment to see where Deering will take Mercy and how her quest continues.