Rat-toothed hillmen and ruined villages in the mist–Corben’s continuing horror series revisits an old Lovecraft formula with this next issue, while keeping up the commentary on the inherent xenophobic streak in the beloved writer’s work.
How’s the series so far?
Aside from Corben’s always mesmerizing art, Rat God‘s debut was most interesting for basically inserting Lovecraft himself into one of his own tales, and forcing him to interact with the more unsavory aspects of his vastly influential career, namely the thinly-veiled racism and fears of miscegenation. The debut introduced two pre-Colonial Native American siblings, Kito and Achak, fleeing across the woods from their pursuers. Their flight takes a time-twisting turn, and morphs into turn-of-the-century New England, where Clark Elwood (our Lovecraft stand-in), our lovable, bumbling racist, seems basically doomed to an ironic fate from page one. Elwood becomes entangled with two siblings who resemble near-mirrors of the Native American siblings, romantically so with the sister, Kito. Issue #1 ends as Elwood continues on his journey to Lame Dog, Kito’s supposed hometown.
Making Lovecraft eat his own prejudice sounds satisfying…
It totally is. Clark Elwood pushes all the right buttons, dropping talk of “pure Aryan stock” and “the lower races” all while being lost in an Appalachian woodland that just has to be teeming with bear-men, bat-winged horrors, or something else. It feels very exploitation-horror in the way it sets up a clear-cut bad guy for a satisfying, albeit grotesque comeuppance.
Interesting Developments in this issue?
Elwood receives a blow to his racial pride when he uncovers trying details regarding Kito’s past and lifestyle, in a moment that’s mirrored in 70% of Lovecraft stories involving mixed ancestry. Also, Elwood’s entrance into Lame Dog sees the plot’s Lovecraftian elements come fully into play–there is clearly something very, very wrong with the inhabitants, and, again, like in a 70s gore-revenge tale, no one in the story seems to notice.
So is this just another Lovecraft tale?
Honestly… yes. In fact, at this point it’s basically a retelling of another Lovecraft short story entitled “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” in a lot of ways, even though Rat God does have other goodies going for it. I like the connection between modern America and its pre-colonial past, a theme that I don’t see cropping up as much in Lovecraft’s work. And, as I mentioned, there’s the giddy joy of putting Lovecraft in his own story–there’s a lot of potential fun to be had in watching him come face to face with his greatest fears. It’s sort of like sticking George Romero into a zombie flick and getting to watch what he’d do in the circumstances. But yeah, you can totally stick Rat God into a Lovecraft anthology and barely anyone would notice.
Finally: is the series getting better or worse?
It’s getting better as we slowly watch Elwood lose his grip on notions of purity and self, and again, as the Lovecraftian elements begin to surface. Honestly, as I’m reading the book, much of my enjoyment is in Corben’s grotesque/beautiful art, and I really can’t wait for him to unleash with the tentacles and half-humans. Issue #2 of Rat God brings us closer to that point, but I have to include a heavy disclaimer–this series is basically only for dyed-in-the-wool fans of the genre, of old terrors and rotten mythologies. Otherwise, much of this can feel like dated storytelling and hackneyed elements to non-believers.