Magic and murder are afoot, as “Rasputin” #3 dives into both Russian folktales and its own mythology. In Verkhoturye, Grigori discovers how his powers of resurrection work — powers that the “holy” monks have a violent, vested interest in. It’s a relief to see “Rasputin” finally let the reader in on its mechanics, but the script still plays second fiddle to the expressive, atmospheric artwork. Artist Riley Rossmo and colorist Ivan Plascencia craft a sharp, stunning winter wonderland that’s as fanged as it is fantastical. While I’d love for “Rasputin” to better define its take on its famous protagonist, I’m quite enchanted by and immersed in its world.
Few things could ever induce me to move to Siberia, but Rossmo and Plascencia’s work just might do it. The wintry Russian wilderness they create here is a curious balance of aesthetics, both openly threatening and openly magical. The spirits of those who’ve committed suicide are terrifying up-close, red-eyed and bloody-toothed, but from a distance they look like plump, cherubic pixies. Grigori is bony and shivering, but he has swirling fairytale-princess hair. Even the seemingly benevolent Snegurochka is all spiked hair and sharp nails. Magic in “Rasputin” is both wondrous and dangerous, and the artwork perfectly captures that contradiction.
I’m not surprised that the Tura River and its magical inhabitants are so well-imagined, since setting is clearly important to “Rasputin.” The team devotes a two-page spread to place-naming in each issue: Siberia in issue #1, Verkhoturye in issue #2 and the Tura River here in issue #3. There’s something beautifully indulgent about spending two of your 26 pages on a huge shot of swimming, dull-eyed pike. Along with the other spreads, it establishes that Russia is as much a character in this series as Grigori.
Ivan Plascencia’s colors create a clear contrast between the events on the river and those in the monastery. The blues, pinks and purples of the river are cold and harsh, but they also glow with light. The monastery, on the other hand, is dark and grim. Everyone looks a little grayer or browner for being there. Even the one character who appears in both sections — Ded Moroz — looks radically more deranged in the monastery pages. Though places both are harsh and unforgiving, these are different types of violence.
As in the previous issues, writer Alex Grecian uses his frame story expertly. The transitions don’t jerk, and the connection between past and present is clear but not over-emphasized. Most importantly, though, he finally explains some of the mechanics and mythology of Rasputin’s powers. The reader can understand how the impulsive, but generally kind Grigori might transform into the cold, mad monk in the present.
(I also have to point out how well Rossmo and Plascencia illustrate the difference between the gentler Rasputin of the past and the fiercer one in the present. In the present, his eyes are so markedly meaner.)
However, I’m still not entirely clear on what Grecian is doing with Rasputin. So far, I can’t figure out the themes, or the particular “take” on the character. (This is especially true of the contrast between the cover and the interior pages. Grigori spends most of the issue healing things and learning, but the cover is entirely about the orgy that happens off-screen and before the issue starts. The story itself is just so much quieter and more questioning than the loud, graphic covers. Perhaps they’re marketing the book based on its later issues?) It’s an enjoyable story, but for me to really fall in love with it going forward, it’ll need to have something to say.
All told, “Rasputin” #3 is a strong third issue that accelerates and explains where it needs to. I’m thrilled with the art and the atmosphere; if the point-of-view develops to match those, this will be a series to watch.