A stark and beautiful look at the famous mad monk that begins in the great white north at the hands of an abusive father.
DRACULA AT DOWNTON ABBEY
… is what the solicit for Rasputin #1 reads and this first issue certainly lives up to that; a refined tale about an infamous historical figure that could not be more perfectly crafted. Acclaimed writer Alex Grecian produces a unique look at the oft fictionalized historical figure – Rasputin. He hasn’t put many words on the pages of this first issue and each one is wrought from the titular narrator with a dark resignation. For, you see, Rasputin #1 opens on the night our protagonist is going to be murdered by a group of his closest friends.
Despite the visually and emotionally dark beginning to Rasputin #1 Grecian quickly directs the narrative into Rasputin’s past. In the wilds of Siberia the mad monk got his beginnings. Readers revisit the land of ice and snow, a teenaged Rasputin and his parents. It’s an unsurprising move to have Rasputin’s father – Efim – be an abusive jerk to his wife and child, but this plot point is handled well, forcing the adolescent Rasputin to revive his mother through the use of magic (and she very much seems to be suffering for it).
Rasputin #1 focuses heavily on the choices Rasputin has had to make throughout his life, starting at an early age, in regards to his mystical abilities and whether he will employ it cruelly or benevolently. It seems to suggest that the sorcerer may have resigned himself to death as either punishment for what he perceives to be the crimes of his past or is already possessed of the knowledge that he will not yet pass beyond the veil.
With the exception of a sparsely-worded flashback almost nothing happens in Rasputin #1’s present day timeline. Although, that in mind, the issue reads at a fast clip and is never ever boring. The immediacy of an attack on Rasputin’s mortality are present in every story beat and every action taken by the reluctant narrator.
Rasputin is character often fictionalized and that will certainly keep readers away from Rasputin #1, but that would be a mistake. Grecian has penned a quiet, hyper-aware and highly intellectual protagonist easily on par with Sherlock Holmes in his self-destructive streak. The issue has a truly indie feel to it with the sparsely employed narrative, familiar notes from history and legend and awareness of the difficult subject matter being tackled.
Rasputin #1 is, ultimately, smarter than the vampire-inspired cover may suggest and for readers interested in alternate histories, mythical history and story archs that play the long game Grecian has served up a masterful issue.
BLACK AND WHITE
Artist Riley Rossmo and colourist Ivan Plascencia have put awesomely beautiful art onto the pages of Rasputin #1. Of course each character appears menacing after their own fashion, penciled entirely from sharp angles, with dark circles beneath their eyes and heavily vampire-inspired character designs. In spite of this, however, Rossmo’s lineart feels nothing short of perfect for the narrative being put on the page.
As alluded to above, the present day events in Rasputin #1 are all coloured darker than dark. Every inch of the panels that can be coloured and shaded in black are. Rasputin wears his moral and ethical corruption on the page even as the black uncertainty of death lingers in his very shadow – sometimes even personified by the ghost of his father, Efim.
When colourist Plascencia tackles the flashback events of Rasputin #1 in the tundra of Siberia it is a bright, bright white to rival the North in Game of Thrones. The starkness of the world Rossmo has put on the page is astounding to behold. In particular, when you come from a Northern country yourself, the design of Siberia feels honest, harsh and beautiful.
The art throughout Rasputin #1, much like the writing, is so much better than I ever thought it would be. Simply put: beautiful issue.
THE BOTTOM LINE: READ ABOUT RASPUTIN
Rasputin #1 is an awesome issue in the true definition of the word. It attacks big issues with a big historical figure and big talent splashed across the page. This issue will surprise you as much as it did me and you’ll probably wind up subscribing to it as well. Challenge a preconception in Rasputin #1.