With his most recent work, Rat God, Corben treads into H.P. Lovecraft territory. It’s not a story I’m specifically familiar with, but when Miskatonic, Arkham, and Cthulu are uttered, you know what territory you’re in. For me, it read like many of Poe’s works dealing with status divides and bizarre love stories.
Our hero, Clark Elwood, an Aryan aristocrat, has reluctantly fallen in love with someone he would describe as a “lower Indian race.” Don’t hate him too quickly! While, yes, he begins the story as a bit of a right bastard, we learn that he truly did love this woman. Oh, if racism wasn’t something bred into us by our environments. He loves her enough to track her down in her village called “Lame Dog” and to go through all the trials and tribulations of a hero’s journey.
The story is full of ill omens. Before ever meeting Clark, we begin in what seems to be a hundred or so years in the past, following a native brother and sister on the run from some pretty frightening warriors. What they have to do with Clark’s journey becomes more symbolic, reaching to the heart of who Clark really is, but along the way Clark must toil with the wilderness, lunatic people from Lame Dog, dangerous, cultish traditions, and, of course, a Rat God.
Corben’s art is hypnotic. His faces are haunting, carrying the weight of years, decades, generations of turmoil. You can see the characters’ spirits in their eyes. For me, it’s where the soul and the horror of this book lies. The people of Lame Dog have troubles you can’t even begin to imagine, and it shows in every look they give. I love Corben’s art here so much that I wish the story had kept me as rapt. It’s a tale that is odd, but its oddities begin to tread down common paths, arriving in places that are more expected than surprising. It’s not to say that the story doesn’t lack depth and charm, that you don’t care about Clark’s transformation, because you do. The romance gives us the fuel the story needs to send us spiraling down the rabbit hole, and Corben’s mastery of expression through his art involves us more than we may realize. Unfortunately, it didn’t come together quite well enough to leave me rapt during its climactic moments.
That being said, if you love Lovecraft or Poe, or love to be taken into another world (Corben’s art is more than enough to do so.), then definitely seek out this book.