This review takes the Edgar Allan Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher #1 and #2 into consideration as both an adaptation and an original work for those unfamiliar with Poe’s 1839 original short story of the same name, and the final rating and recommendation reflect my feelings on the comic as both adaptation and original.
Reading through Richard Corben’s Edgar Allan Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher felt like a literary analysis of Poe’s story writ for the comic enthusiast; bye-bye to lectures on thematic and symbolic elements of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” hello to this wonderful comic worthy of its own interpretation and analysis and just plain pretty (in an eerie sort of way). Corben combines the plot for this comic with another of Poe’s works, “The Oval Portrait,” which is somewhat akin to Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray. In addition, the narrator in this comic is Mag the Hag, introduced in Corben’s adaptation of Poe’s poem “The Conqueror Worm” (comic has the same name) which came out last November (2012), and Corben features Poe himself, as ‘Allan,’ as Poe’s original unnamed narrator.
As an adaptation, Corben does a great job capturing Poe’s major themes: the creepy life-like quality of the House of Usher, Roderick Usher’s madness (though Corben’s Roderick is more psychopathic and less derranged than Poe’s man), and the incestuous relationship between Roderick and his sister Madeline. Corben took great liberties with their relationship, making Madeline a central figure to whom Allan becomes attached. Allan is quite talkative, not the quite, concerned narrator that he is in the original—this doesn’t detract from the story, but Corben’s script for Allan seems out of place with the 19th century setting.
Corben’s unique twists to the story modernize it; I’m sure many reader’s would find Poe’s original somewhat bleak. But where Poe uses pages full of eloquent narration to express in literature the dense oppression of the atmosphere of the House of Usher and the hair-standing-on-your neck vibe, Corben instead has his masterful artwork to accomplish this task in an equally effective manner. His style is well suited to this type of Gothic work, as he’s worked with Mike Mignola a number of times, and got his start submitting to Creepy and Eerie, among plenty of other successes.
Corben’s panel ecology in The Fall of the House of Usher is complex, with edges rumbly and mottled except where human characters are concerned, giving the whole book a feeling of being visually unsettled in the same way that Poe’s original story leaves the reader with a somber, heavily laden fog of depression milling about his narrator’s environment. The best example is the longshots of the House of Usher, the edges of which are so busy as to make the house seem—quite literally—alive, much as it has been suggested Poe meant, alive and overgrown with sentient fungus!
And the ‘death’ of the House of Usher is even more spectacular under the penmanship of Corben than in the original (though, admittedly, readers in 1839 probably hadn’t read too many stories in which a house crumbles when its owners die), where it almost seems a final anecdote which the read is left contemplating. Then again, forced reflection is sometimes the key to brilliant writing.
Creepy. That truly is the best way to describe Corben’s eerie adaptation on the whole, both story and art, all of it seeps through the pages and into the mind like an unforgettable horror story populated with too eccentric madmen and unnerving twists. And while the dialogue is at times awkward, at least for someone who greatly enjoyed the original, I would contend that Richard Corben’s Fall of the House of Usher will be remembered for some time, and if ever I get the chance to teach Poe, my students will surely also be reading this adaptation.
Story and Art: Richard Corben
Story: 8.5 Art: 9 Overall: 8.75 Recommendation: Buy
Dark Horse provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review