Another four from the tomb.

Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allen Poe #2 (of 3)

Another go for this ad-free b&w Marvel MAX miniseries dedicated to horror comics adaptations of prose and poetry, the original works also presented in their entirety for easy comparison. This is far enough away from anything else Marvel is publishing that the sales of issue #1, just over 14,500 copies to the Direct Market, won’t come as all that much of a surprise, though it should be noted that had any of the smaller publishers that could conceivably have released exactly the same material actually done so, these numbers would have been rather healthy. I can imagine, for example, IDW releasing precisely the same book (minus the Haunt of Horror brand on the title), at an identical $3.99 price point - over 14,500 copies would have made this book their highest non-Transformers seller for the month. Or Dark Horse - it would have been their sixth-highest seller for the month, below assorted Conan, Star Wars, and Hellboy-related books. Not bad for Edgar Allen Poe!

Ha, of course I’m talking silly here. This book couldn’t have hoped to have done such numbers without the Marvel name and the company’s instant Direct Market appeal, hardly enough to make a blockbuster out of anything (they can’t even do that for mutant books anymore) but still of the needed potency to launch a batch of b&w horror adaptations a little higher than one can imagine it going otherwise. The most apt comparison, then, would be with the last time Marvel tried this: Stoker’s Dracula, a four-issue adaptation from Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano that debuted in October of 2004 at just over 18,000 copies (it would conclude in March of the following year at under 9000 copies of the final issue). Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allen Poe is a MAX book, however, which might have limited its grasp, plus couldn’t profit from the appeal of an old team reuniting to finish off a big project started decades before. I don’t think it’s lagging that far behind, then.

What I’m getting at is that Marvel does have the ability to get works like this a little extra push, a little more instant visibility in the Direct Market. I presume they’re also keeping an eye on bookstores - I’ve seen more than a few copies of Stoker’s Dracula floating around chain stores, and certainly the timing of this release seems primed to getting stuff out for a Halloween tie-in hardcover. People ought to be looking for this material wherever, because they’re good comics, too. That Dracula book provided a smooth, crisply-paced, faithful rendition of the original novel, charmingly rendered in a tastefully low-key ‘spooky’ manner. This series is practically the polar opposite, twisting and crunching Poe’s works into the form of unrepentantly trashy, lowdown horror shorts, the art of Richard Corben oscillating between chilly, ink-black atmosphere and lurid pulp grue.

It’s no less engaging, though, so good is Corben at what he does.

Take, for example, the adaptation of Poe’s Eulalie, the story's first page warning us "This ain't exactly your Daddy's Edgar Allen Poe--!" Sure enough, Corben and writer Rick Dahl (who once again is, for some reason, absent from the official credits in the front of the book) are more than happy to pervert Poe's short ode to love into a grossly amusing saga of an old man having a grand old time with a new blow-up doll. Needless to say, Corben gets the romantic shadow just right as Our Hero lovingly gazes into his inanimate paramour's perpetually agape mouth. The objective is pure dissonance, he words of Poe rendered delusional (though not forcedly so) by the necessary visual element. And it's funny, at least to me.

Probably a more respectable effort is the Rich Margopoulos-scripted The Tell-Tale Heart, executed by Corben as in experiment in panel-free storytelling, the whole tale told in six full-page images, the gestures of characters and the movement of sound effects and the staging of action and the positioning of captions marvelously used to direct the reader's eye easily over every display. It's enough of a visual tour de force that one almost doesn't pick up on the odd changes made to the story, for no discernible reason other than to convert it into a cornily ironic pre-Code type horror yarn, though such a move does fit in with the general drive of the series. I suppose I just find it more pleasing when Corben and company utilize a minimal source, freeing them to stretch out a little more.

For example, there's Spirits of the Dead, which in Poe's verse serves mainly to reflect upon the gnawing presence of mortality in the night. Corben's and Dahl's comic, devoting one page to each of the poem's five stanzas (plus an additional wordless page), transforms it into a Civil War-era (that's the Blue & the Gray, not Spider-Man removing Alberto Gonzales's mask) fable about dead Union troops rising to save a black comrade from the clutches of the Ku Klux Klan. Or The Lake, an ode to self-effacing solitude, converted into a saga of decayed love and decayed bodies rising up for a haunting. Camp? Yes. But in those creepy visions of Corben's art, it often seems that a hidden heart, a beating, hideous heart, is being pulled up from not merely Poe's work, but the notion of 'Poe' itself. The Poe that Corben sees in his head, death rattling all around in even the nicer poems. We can see whose name is in the title of this thing, but it's plain whose eyes we're staring through, I find myself liking the experience.