BOOK REVIEW: Richard Corben’s “Morella” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue”/ Dark Horse Comics


Posted 12/21/14

Morella CoverRichard Corben has had a long and varied career as an artist and illustrator, having done stellar work for most major comics publishers, but being known primarily in weird fiction reading circles for illustrating and adapting stories for some of the most popular black and white comic magazines, Vampirella,  Creepy and Eerie, Warren publications popular primarily in the 1970s. His work for Heavy Metal Magazine has garnered him legions of fans. Richard Corben is a 2012 Eisner Hall of Fame Inductee.

Dark Horse has published a one-shot book giving Corben a platform to adapt two of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and, aided by Beth Corben Reed (coloring) and Nate Piekos (lettering), Corben is at the top of his game.

His bold, fleshy style is well-suited to these adaptations. The first is “Morella”, Poe’s vampire-like story of resurrection from 1835. The first thing to note is that Corben, as adaptor, borrows the old horror mag device of a recurring host to frame and tell the stories. In this case, a hostess, Mag the Hag. The one-eyed sarcastic raconteur has no parallel in all of Poe, but she does play a supporting part in Corben’s nicely sexualized retelling of Morella, and breaks the forth was to help narrate and put the button on the story at the end. Heh…heh.. Corben's re-telling of Poe’s story of death and re-birth and identity is keen, and understands the themes and tone that POE was after.

Corben then tackles the oft-adapted proto-detective story of Poe’s, The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Here, Mag the narrator is passing through and only comes back at the end for her pithy wrap-up. Corben sets the action in Paris in the 1840s, and gives Dupin and his friend (here called Beluc) the look of middle-aged aesthetes with close-cropped hair and Parisian noses and teeth; long, elongated and fleshy in the Corben style.

In this story, which laid the groundwork for all detective fiction to come (particularly Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes), Poe was primarily concerned with, as he put it, “the exercise of ingenuity in detecting a murderer”. And that's what Poe does and that's as far as he goes (as most who are reading this are well aware). However, to serve the needs of this adaptation, Richard Corben has devised a very satisfying ending that makes the climax visually interesting, and satisfying, with our villain dying, as many a nasty villain is wont to do, from a great height.

This is not the first time that Richard Corben has adapted Edgar Allan Poe to the comic book medium. Nor is it his last, as Dark Horse has published a series of “one-shot” adaptations. We’ll look at each of the others in turn in future reviews of Corben’s Poe work.

Highly recommended!

Lee David
Lee David Self Portrait
Jeffrey Combs as Edgar Allan Poe Morella Morella
Corben's bold, fleshy signature style is on ample display in this book.
A scene from "Morella". 
Like the hosts of magazines of an earlier age,
Corben has created a similar creepy recurring
host for his POE stories called Mag the Hag
The ferocious orangutan in "The Murders in Rue Morgue".