One of the most wonderful and frustrating things about creator Terry Moore, is his careful use of artwork to establish tone. This is wonderful because he is often able to convey complex emotion and nuanced drama using a series of beautifully crafted black and white panels. It also frustrating because sometimes this means that a single issue seems over mere minutes after cracking the book open. My coworkers and I from my comic store days used to joke that in the time it took you to read one issue of Promethea or Kabuki, you could finish at least ten issues of Strangers in Paradise. Ultimately this admiring frustration – one I have heard often from Moore fans – is a testament to his strengths as a storyteller and artist; readers want to get lost in his carefully crafted tales and the swiftness of our entry into his world and the equally sudden departure can a little jarring for fans wanting more.
This reality does not mean however that I would recommend waiting for the trades of Moore’s work to come out before reading his stuff. While some of my fondest comic memories include afternoons spent curled up with a volume of Strangers in Paradise, there is something important gained when one reads each issue as they come out. By not rushing the larger story but focusing on a single issue there are important aspects of Moore’s style that are revealed. This trait is readily apparent the in the indy creator’s new series, Rachel Rising; the story of a young girl who returns from the dead following her brutal murder. The first issue reads exceptionally quickly but there is a wealth of substance being created in those often dialogue-less panels.
The issue begins with a mysterious woman walking through the forest alone. She comes to a small ledge overlooking a dry riverbed. As the woman dispassionately watches, a leaf falls into the dirt, catches on fire, and from that spot, Rachel emerges from her would-be grave. Besides the epigraph at the beginning and the sound of Rachel taking a breath after returning to life, the first nine pages are entirely silent. The rest of the issue finds Rachel returning home, showering, and trying to piece together the events of the evening before. There are few panels of memory where Rachel’s attacker is seen in shadows preparing to strangle her, and the book ends with her visiting friends, one of whom utters the ominous line, “You’re not Rachel.”
By slowly drawing out the opening, Moore does more than just the usual first issue 101 type of stuff. It very much reads like a type of mental realignment. We live in a time where death is everywhere and in any given story there can literally be thousands of people maimed or murdered. By really focusing the reader’s attention on Rachel’s return to life the creator reemphasizes the fragility of life and the inherent destabilizing impact violence has on the society and the lives of people.
The beautiful nature sequence that Moore creates is juxtaposed heavily with the aberrant brutality of the discarded corpse in the shallow grave. These signifiers are typical of these types of stories, but when drawn by someone as talented as Moore, understanding their execution becomes paramount. Violence, both implied and explicitly illustrated, are not uncommon in popular artwork. But when an artist like Moore draws a violent event, it is not a celebratory act but a gross and terrible thing.
Issue 1 of Rachel Rising is very reminiscent of the first issue of Moore’s previous series, Echo. Although in Echo we actually see the murder of the doomed test pilot whereas in Rachel Rising, the death is only glimpsed briefly, both begin with nature sequences and both explore the way this natural tranquility can be shattered by acts of violence.
From there the two series’ definitely go different ways. Although Moore’s describes his new project as sci-fi horror, one unifying theme between Rachel Rising and the earlier Echo emerges clearly: something has terrible has happened, now we must find out why.
As someone who has adored Moore’s work, I am very excited to see what the creator of Francine and Katchoo does with this much darker tale. If the first issue is any indication, he is tackling this project with the same quality and care that have been defining characteristics of his previous work. I look forward to adding this title to my “must-buy” pile.