Grigori Rasputin was an enigmatic character and I never could understand if he was more myth than man when I learnt about him at school. All I remember is that he looked like a scary homeless man, who seemed to have the ear of the Russian royal family because of his mystical religious powers. Alex Grecian alludes to this in his rationale for the book in the final page column and has developed a fascinating re-imagining of his life in this opening issue of the comic. As he lets his creativeness run wild, it brings me back to sitting in school imagining how difficult it must be to kill a man that refuses to die.
From the opening pages this comic sets a dark and dulcet tone where Rasputin dines with a bunch of aristocrats. Even though the dialogue boxes suggest his life must be threatened, Rossmo delivers that message so emphatically with his art. The postures are so telling because no person seems to pay attention to Grigori as they sit with their back to him, failing to engage in any kind of conversation. The sheer ostracization of a man sitting at the head of a dining table is such an insult, that there can only be malice in his direction. The style and clothing of his fellow dinner guests is so far removed from the furry apparel of Rasputin, even the perfectly sculpted hairstyles and beards show disdain to the convoluted mess of the vagrant at the table. One can only imagine that this is how Rasputin frequented the palaces of the royals. The refined inking gives room for Ivan Plascenia to colour at his best, especially as he delicately manipulates the lighting from the candles. The background is dark and brings unease at the characters that lurk there, the giant man in the trenchcoat I assume is another guest and the blue hue of a ghost that is Rasputin’s father.
The rest of the comic, Grecian dedicates to character exposition, spending its time in the cold light of Siberia, as Grigori chops wood with his father. His father Efin is a monster of a man and is depicted as a giant, who looms over his worrisome child. We don’t really know why he looks so scared until we go back to the family home and see the father physically abuse his wife. It is genuinely uncomfortable to see the violence, which is where Rossmo excels. Once again his depiction of the abusive father is so apt, that we all know how bad he will behave before we see him do it. The scene where he fights a bear is just incredible as Efin stands tall and shows very little fear, reaffirming the notion he is more animal than man. The story plays out in a way you wouldn’t imagine because as realistic as the portrayal of this story may appear, there are mystical elements that allow Rasputin a chance at slow and painful vengeance. The boy is worried but he is not afraid. This is where I get the opportunity to discuss how Riley Rossmo art is so recognisable, because of the way he draws eyes. Almost all emotion pours through them, whether it be the father’s anger, the mother’s fear or the son’s love. They are normally wide and bright and you can see the whole of the whites of them. The shapes are the most expressive aspect and they can tell you all you need to know.
Where this comic truly succeeds is producing a fantastic character exposition. Rasputin is so mysterious and creepy, even as a child. The anxiousness of a child has disappeared to give an indifference as an adult. He cares little for the people at his table and is probably quite realistic in thinking his life is in danger. We know he has ineffable powers, as demonstrated when he was younger, but we can only wonder how he has used them as an adult. The fact he was a quivering child in Siberia and now he is hosting a dinner for noblemen is such a contrast that we cannot help but wonder if powers brought him there. Inevitably there will be people that fear him or try to remove him just because of his appearance and influence. But Rasputin does not care, that is clear. His passive emotionless vengeance against his father is as cold as the Siberian winter. He is slow, measured and unnerving. I once again begin to wonder, how do you kill a man that refuses to die.
“When the legend become fact, print the legend”