“Rasputin” #1 is not a comic book; it’s a movie pitch. Writer Alex Grecian says as much in the back matter of this first chapter. The essay conveys the writer’s desire to make this into a different media and I don’t know a book where the writer was more honest about his or her intention with a comic. It’s a curious choice for a first issue, a mostly silent venture that takes many liberties with the early life of the mad monk and does little in the way of introducing the actual story of the series other than showing what may or may not be the end of the lead character’s life. It features great art from Riley Rossmo and the only fight between a bear and an ax-wielding maniac you’ll read this week.
Grigori Rasputin sits down at what may be his final meal, explaining that someone in the room will end his life that night. The tale then flashes back Siberia decades earlier as Grigori and his mother are terrorized by the patriarch of the family in a tiny shack, where it’s revealed that Grigori has healing and resurrecting powers. The story then jumps to a scene where Grigori watches as his father ax-fights a bear until both go down at the same time like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior double clotheslining one another. Grigori opts to heal the bear and let his vicious father bleed out. We come back to the present as Grigori knowingly drinks wine that he believes is poisoned.
As mentioned before this is an odd choice for the opening of a story. The reader is given few details about the current state of the protagonist and two short scenes from his past. It is more of a scenario than a story, a short play that seems to have nowhere to go after the last page is turned. The present day narration and stature makes Rasputin feel like a Frank Underwood-type character but “House of Cards” showed us Frank in action. We see Rasputin’s past but not what he is like today. After putting the book down I still don’t know what the structure of this comic will be, and that’s not promising for a first issue.
For the story’s faults Rossmo’s art is beautiful. He differentiates the styles between present and past, creating moody atmosphere and claustrophobic layouts in the present and bright, wide open panels in the past. It reflects the character’s worldview and his decline from boyish innocence to dark hardened cynicism. The ax fight with the bear is dynamic and violent just like an ax fight with a bear should be. Kudos to the skeletal detail found in each use of Grigori’s powers as well; that’s some serious reference work. Ivan Plascencia compliments Rossmo’s art throughout and impresses with those same power usage scenes, making the out of the ordinary feel like exactly that.
With a clearer mission statement “Rasputin” #1 could have been an interesting historical fiction take on a fascinating figure. It’s handsomely drawn but at the end feels like it has no purpose or need to continue beyond this point. Here’s hoping the rest of the series can find that direction it needs.