In Review: Rasputin: The Voice of the Dragon #1

I never thought I would have to say, "Hooray for Rasputin." Recommended.

The covers: The Regular cover by Mike Huddleston is like a horrific movie poster. Rasputin is in the foreground, his hand to chest, which bears several dark symbols on his robe. His face is shaded, allowing his pupil-less eyes to become demonic. Behind him is a Nazi, whose face is equally hidden, though his damnable uniform stands out. Both characters are within the ruins of a building, littered with lit candles, statuary covered in blasphemous scrawls, and a red banner hanging from the ceiling that features an image of the Dragon combined with the Nazi swastika. It doesn’t get more evil and foreboding than this. I need this as a poster, though heaven knows where I could post it! The Variant cover is by Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart and is equally chilling. Rasputin stares at the reader from a distance, his cloak covered in arcane symbols. Behind him is a massive silhouette of the Dragon, which bears a human skull in its center. Behind all is the Nazi swastika, showing who’s in league with this evil sorcerer. The entire image is given a misty red coloring, forcing the reader to wonder if these images are real or the contents of a nightmare. Terrific. Overall grades: A+

The story: Postignano, Italy. July 1937. In a cathedral high on a hill, before a red altar that features an image of the dragon surrounded by a huge mass of candles a figure kneels and says, “Will you not speak to me once more?” An infamous Nazi stumbles upon the man in prayer and wants to know how it is that this man is still alive after the world believes him to have died twenty years ago. When asked what happened that night in St. Petersburg, the figure says, “Poisoned. Shot. Beaten, and then drowned. A lesser man would have surely died.” He turns to face the Nazi, revealing eyes as crimson as the altar before him. “But I was meant for greater things.” He states that the Dragon spoke to him and he was “vouchsafed a vision of the world transformed by his fire.” The Dragon has spoken to others before the speaker and he admits he does not understand everything, but he will remain faithful. The Nazi asks him to return to Germany with him. When the robed figure asks why he should go to a land that is the enemy of his beloved Russia, he is told “Because the future is ours. We are building an empire that will stand for a thousand years. The Reich has need of your wisdom, Herr Rasputin, and there is much that I can offer in return.” Rasputin reveals himself fully, saying, “I am listening.” What an ominous opening from writers Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson. This scene is then countered by following a day in the life of young Trevor Bruttenholm in Buckinghamshire, England in June of 1941. What the future professor is up to is extremely interesting as he comes upon something that will change the course of his life. His legwork has him discovering the unimaginable. He seeks the advice of a family member who warns him to stop his investigation. This person has a tie-in with another Mignola character and I practically did a back flip when this individual was named. Page 20 has a horror enter Bruttenholm’s life with a tease of a larger threat. This is how you start a horror comic. Overall grade: A+

The art: The transition between panels two and three on this issue’s first page shows readers what to expect in this series; the beautiful and the frightening. The all too brief, but beautiful, Italian architecture gives way to the man-made horror of the Dragon’s altar. Having so much light around Rasputin, yet having the character remain in darkness, is a fantastic way by artist Christopher Mitten to show this villain’s soul before he reveals his face. The first panel on Page 2 shows that this prayer room lies within destruction, which is another slick way to show the evil of this individual. The infamous Nazi looks so meek and frail, yet if one recognizes this character, one knows that he is as vile as Rasputin. The flash of eyes at the bottom of the same page is beautiful and shocking with the power they wield. Things definitely go into the unreal with what’s shown on Page 3, with the second panel awesomely embracing the occult. The full reveal at the bottom of 4 is perfect match for the text. Before moving on, notice how the candles go beyond Rasputin’s panel, continuing to the far left, surrounding the Nazi. Bruttenholm’s pages show him to be swallowed by his employment, with the setting on 7 being delightfully overwhelming. The countryside that Mitten creates for Bruttenholm’s quest is idyllic, with 9 sure to make a reader want to visit England, though the tale that’s told after this page will stop that. Page 12 has an impressive setting and foreshadows a future location for future professor. The flashback on Page 14 has me screaming for the return of this character’s exploits. If these pages have been too calm for those seeking horror, 17’s final panel will make one’s head spin. Next to Rasputin’s reveal, the individual that appears on 20 was my favorite of the issue. Mitten should always have a new book out every month. Overall grade: A+

The colors: Dave Stewart’s colors increase the tone of every page. The red altar on the first page is like a vicious streak from Hell. The candles’ yellows give it an increased inhuman tone. The coloring on both of the characters’ flesh on this opening sequence is great, with the Nazi a pasty white and the Russian a dark, hidden coloring. Bruttenholm’s world is colored very differently: the colors are faded as one would expect from a picture that survived from that time. His workplace is yellow, like faded paper. Even exterior scenes are given a tainted hue, as if the gloomy English weather has taken all the color away. My favorite coloring is on Page 17, with the sky clearing a little, allowing some of the countryside to show its colors, which delightfully set the reader up for a shaded surprise. The eyes of the character that appears on 20 are luminescent with a color that commands focus. Stewart’s work is perfect for this book. Overall grade: A+

The letters: This book’s text includes scene settings, dialogue, sounds, and the unique speech of a character in pain. This final contribution by Clem Robins is like the cherry on top of this character’s look. The sounds appear appropriately on the final four pages, increasing the horror of the situation. Robins also expertly inserts the dialogue so that no panel of artwork has an element hidden to the reader. Robins is another comic book pro who never disappoints. Overall grade: A+

The final line: An extremely impressive debut. Long term fans know the fates of the protagonist and antagonist, yet Mignola and Roberson have created a tale that will swallow veteran readers and take them where they’ve never been before. New readers can start here, before Hellboy ever came to Earth, and enjoy each page of mystery and horror. The artwork masterfully captures the time period, while creating abominations that will thrill. I never thought I would have to say, “Hooray for Rasputin.” Recommended. Overall grade: A+

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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