"Rasputin: Volume 1" Trade Paperback Review
Written by Angry Scholar
Published by Image Comics
Originally published as Rasputin #1-5
Written by Alex Grecian
Illustrated by Riley Rossmo
2015, 184 pages
Trade Paperback released on June 24th, 2015
Remember that movie Anastasia, the animated Disney-like (but emphatically not Disney) film about the Russian girl who turned out to be a member of the imperial family? And the talking bat named after a Hungarian folk musician? And the evil undead monk Rasputin? That was a pretty cool movie.
Rasputin is not at all like that movie. It’s far darker, grittier, more violent; but, somewhat paradoxically, Rasputin himself, the nigh-unkillable mystical healer-monk, is an immensely sympathetic, even tragic character.
The story begins with Grigori Rasputin’s childhood in Siberia. His giant of a father comes home one day and brutally beats his wife. Grigori demonstrates his miraculous healing powers, saving his mother’s life; later, when his father is attacked by a bear and both man and beast lie dying, Grigori pointedly uses his powers to heal not his monstrous father, but the wounded grizzly.
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Years later, an older Rasputin throws in his lot with a visiting French soldier before winding up at a monastery. One night he wanders off into the tundra to encounter Ded Moroz, a Santa Claus-like figure from Russian folklore (here represented as a terrifying giant) and his elfin accomplice Snegurochka. We learn that Rasputin is a descendant of a man who stole Ded Moroz’s magical waters of healing, and that every time the young monk uses his healing powers, he takes on a small portion of the nature of the person (or animal) he heals.
This first collection follows Rasputin up to the early part of the Great War, when he has gained the ear of the Tsar. Rasputin argues passionately against Russia’s involvement and as a result is the victim of an assassination plot by nobleman Felix Yusupov and MI-6 agent Oswald Rayner (I admit it, I had to Wiki them both).
I know very little about the historical Rasputin, but I’m happy to say this in no way diminished my enjoyment of this comic. Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo, who also collaborated on the cryptid-themed PROOF, are really onto something with Rasputin. Grecian’s writing is sparse and economical, lending a certain gravity and subtle mystic air to a narrative that could easily have degenerated into dry political commentary, sorcerous silliness, or both.
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Rossmo’s art, meanwhile, is simply stunning. He excels at facial expressions and body language, and is particularly gifted at depicting complex architectural works and detailed interior scenes. Every panel is washed-out and faded, which effectively adds to the somber tone of the narrative without feeling heavy-handed.
While this isn’t really a horror title, it shares with the genre a certain darkness that is just super neat. Throughout the entire story, Rasputin is shadowed by the ghost of his father; a silent, glowing presence in the background of every scene, a nice touch that adds an element of eeriness. Rasputin also has a compelling cast of characters (including the fascinating protagonist), incredible artwork, and a well-paced story that includes an addictive mix of political intrigue and shadowy supernatural forces. Check it out, maybe with a nice Imperial stout. And afterwards watch Anastasia again, because it’s rare these days to see a kid’s movie with a killer zombie monk as the villain.