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I picked up this two-issue comic book miniseries because I am a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, demented and tormented as he may be, he’s a fabulous writer. This is an adaptation, by Richard Corben, of TWO of his stories put together, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Oval Portrait. I must admit, it’s been years since I read House of Usher and I have never read The Oval Portrait so, this was an interesting tale to read.
I can’t really begin to summarize this story. It’s dark and twisted and utterly disturbing, to say the least. Admittedly, I’ve done what I can and I have to say this in NO WAY does this comic book justice.
So, we have a guy, Allan, who goes to visit a friend, Roderick, who is an artist. He is obviously losing his grip on reality as he has compiled an array of decomposing bodies in his dilapidated house. At the same time, he is completely focused on this portrait of his sister that he is creating. So, focused in fact, that he doesn’t realize that he’s pretty much abandoned everything else in his life except this painting. He stands for hours perfecting every brush stroke while his poor sister, Madeline, sits as still as a statue, exhausted from being deprived of sleep, weak from hunger, barely able to even keep her eyes open, and Roderick screams at her to get herself together and be the good model.
During a period of rest during the night, Madeline comes to Allan with a handful of notes, which she hands him, explaining that Roderick is obsessed to the point of insanity and that when Allan leaves, he must take her with him. She further writes that her brother has unnaturally sharp hearing, like Vulcan hearing, and that she fears for her life. But, the exchange is interrupted and she runs off.
Later, as Roderick is applying the final brush strokes to his masterpiece, Madeline’s face contorts in pain and she clutches her chest in agony. Yet, Allan and Roderick, too mesmerized by the finished piece, notice not and boast how Madeline will now live forever. However, when they hear the horrid THUD behind them of Madeline’s body hitting the floor, then they see something is terribly wrong.
So, now that Madeline has kicked the bucket, they wrap her in a shroud and place her in a box in the basement that will act as her tomb. While placing her in the makeshift coffin, Roderick cops a feel on his own sister, actually a couple. Allan notices this and obviously thinks it’s creepy.
Days start to pass and Roderick grows increasingly unstable. After what seems to be a dream sequence (though honestly, it’s not very clear what is going on at this point), Allan finds the rest of Madeline’s notes. They explain that the painting is supernatural and as her brother continues to bring “it” to life, she loses HER life. She also expresses that Roderick will bury her prematurely and if the worst should happen, Allan is to destroy the painting.
Having learned this, he runs to the basement to free Madeline…but, he is too late.
He bolts back upstairs, is confronted by Roderick’s butler and swiftly kills the large man in his rage. Then, he’s off to Roderick himself.
He steps into Roderick’s bedroom and sees him making out with the painting, which is actually caressing and kissing him back, for it is alive now. Allan, knows there’s something strange about the painting and starts to touch it, which sends Roderick into an absolute frenzy and a fight ensues.
Now, remember that this old house is severely dilapidated and is falling apart. As all of this has been happening, a massive storm of rain, wind, thunder and lightning has been pounding relentlessly on this ramshackle stone dwelling. And a fatal flaw in the foundation is about to give way.
Lightning strikes as the two men exchange blows until Allan gets his hands on the painting and chucks it into the fireplace, thus destroying it forever. As he does this, a terrible scream comes from the basement and bloody feet start to trek up with the steps to the main floor where Allan and Roderick are still fighting wildly.
Then, as sudden as can be, the wall comes crashing down and Madeline, in all her deadened, rotted glory appears before Roderick…and attacks him. Though he and Roderick have been trying to kill each other, apparently, he has now had a change of heart and cries for Madeline to stop trying to murder Roderick.
The house is crumbling beneath their feet and time is running wickedly short.
Grasping at only air, Allan screams and falls into the rubble, which is rolling into the sea. The rest of the house, Madeline and Roderick follow shortly after him…until nothing is left.
Then, slowly a hand rises from the water, reaching for the shore. A man climbs out onto the land. It’s Allan. The only survivor.
Well, this definitely highlights certain parts of the demented world of Poe’s mind. I mean, good grief, making out with a painting of your sister??? Totally creepy. I mean, as if either one by itself isn’t creepy enough (making out with a painting, making out with your sister, ugh just nasty) but, come one, you gotta put them both together and give it that super extra creepo factor, huh? Well, it worked.
While there are a couple parts where it is difficult to figure out what is going on (I’m sure a more extensive Edgar Allan Poe repertoire would help but, it’s been so long, those brain cells in my head must be dead or sleeping), it’s still one hell of a twisted rendition of what I vaguely remember of House of Usher.
The artwork is, in my opinion, is actually pretty good. Even though these images seem almost like tame caricatures of what people could look like, it’s not completely unbelievable that someone like this might exist, either in flesh or in personality.
I actually read the whole story twice before I started to write this review trying to get a better understanding of what the content was but, honestly, I feel that is going to be somewhat subjective. I do think, however, that if you are a fan of psychologically twisted tales and a fan of Poe, you should definitely read this and decided for yourself if you think it’s a worthy adaptation.