Sunday, January 3, 2016

Daughters of the Dark Oracle - The Curse of Ragdoll

Comics aren't for children anymore is not just a tagline - it's pretty much the truth for most comics being published today.  And I'm not just referring to the small, independent companies - DC and Marvel have integrated so much profanity, violence, and dark themes into their comics, that had I picked up today's comics when I was younger, I probably wouldn't have been as interested in them.

But that's not to say that just because they are aimed at adults, they are bad. There are some really great comics out there, particularly from independent and self-publishers.  I have found that the work of the indy creators is more enjoyable because the writers and artists have so much more freedom to just tell a great story - they aren't constricted by stories that must be told in 6-issue format to fill a trade paperback; they aren't forced to integrate company-wide crossovers into their stories; and they aren't inhibited by editors who are telling them what they can or cannot do in their stories.  They can simply tell the stories they want to in the number of pages and number of issues that the story requires - nothing more, and nothing less.

Daughters of the Dark Oracle is definitely one of these great comics.

I bought this title based solely on a small blurb in Diamond Previews book.  A haunting world of horror is unveiled, beginning with the Ghastly Award-winning tale, "The Curse of Ragdoll," by creator Mike Wolfer (Lady Death, Friday the 13th, Gravel).  As the female Frankenstein's monster begins her heart-stopping mission of vengeance in 18th century Europe, you'll also meet Countess Bathory, the Wolfwoman, the Siren, and more!  If you love Hammer Films and Warren Publications from the '70s, this one's for you.

How could I not pick this up?  I loved the Friday the 13th issues that Wolfer wrote for Avatar Press.  I enjoy the Hammer Films of the '70s. And I absolutely love horror tales.  So I ordered all four issues, and once they came in, sat down to read.

First, I did not realize that the story had been previously published.  According to the preface, Wolfer created the story back in 1998, published as a 7-part serial.  This book tells the same tale, but with a revised script, all new lettering, new art, and entirely new pages not seen in the original serialized story.  Further, the original story was a self-contained tale; now, "The Curse of Ragdoll" is but the opening chapter in a much larger saga.  It is framed by snippets of geologist Sir Peter Wyndham, who has discovered in an ice cave on a Carpathian mountain peak, a century-old journal that tells the story of a woman who calls herself "Ragdoll," a supernatural being composed, like Frankenstein's monster, from the body parts of various people - the only difference is, her parts come from the bodies of murdered women, all who cry out for vengeance!

The main story of each issue reveals the details of those vengeful acts, as retold in Ragdoll's journal. The deaths of vile men who have brutally murdered women without a second thought.  And the chase given by Inspector Pike and Sergeant Claus, who are looking to put an end to the murders once and for all.  Their paths are destined to cross, as Ragdoll continues her quest for vengeance, and as readers, we begin to realize that Ragdoll isn't necessarily the villain of this tale.  She appears on the scene at the most unexpected moments, pointing accusatory fingers at men who think themselves above the law, who believe women are there to service them and then be tossed aside.  Sure, she acts as judge, jury, and executioner, but in 18th century Europe, would these men have been punished otherwise?

The series ends in the forest near Wolfsburg (interesting choice of names, considering the tale focuses on a werewolf roaming the woods), where a young girl, Heidi, and her lover are forced to meet in secret or face the wrath of her abusive father.  As any story such as this goes, he catches them, shocked to discover that one of them is the werewolf that has been seen in the area.  Of course, Ragdoll shows up, intent on ending the life of the man who killed Heidi's mother, a part of her now living on in Ragdoll, screaming for retribution.  There is plenty of violence here at the end, and there is definitely some surprises, as well as some sadness, as lives are lost and those left behind must live with the consequences.  The ending also leaves many questions for the reader to ponder...

What happened to Ragdoll?  Is her thirst for vengeance quenched?

What will Inspector Pike and Sergeant Claus do now that they have faced Ragdoll?  Will they continue to hunt her down, or will they realize she is simply punishing those who most deserve it?

And what of Sir Wyndham, who has now read the truth behind this supernatural creature?  What will he do with this knowledge?

Wolfer, who provides both the story and the art, does a magnificent job.  He writes characters that are more than stereotypical.  He breathes life into them, making you care about the ones you should and detest the villainous degenerates (and find yourself rooting for Ragdoll to rid the world of).  The art, in beautifully drawn black-and-white interiors, is amazing.  There is no weird "stylistic art" that seems to be permeating the mainstream comics of today.  The people look like people, the backgrounds are detailed, and there is no exaggeration of human body parts.  (And yes, there are certain body parts shown throughout the tale.  As I said at the beginning, this is definitely an adult tale, and there are naked women, as well as naked men, depicted.  There is also a lot of gore and violence - after all, this is a horror tale.)

This comic tale is exactly why I read so much more independent work these days.  It is engaging, it is well-paced and not padded with unnecessary exposition nor numerous unnecessary splash pages, and it makes me long for more.  Which, thankfully, there will be, when the second mini-series comes out in a few months!  I can hardly wait.

RATING:  9 bloody rampages out of 10 for giving me such a great tale of horror (yeah, admittedly it could have been a 10, but I had to knock off a point for some of the gratuitous nudity - but, then again, what's a horror tale without gratuitous nudity?)

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