First published back in June of 1993, the Eclipse Graphic Novel’s adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story ‘Rawhead Rex’ from the author’s ‘Books Of Blood: Volume Three’ (1984) followed in the footsteps of the successful ‘Tapping The Vein’ (1989 - 1992) adaptations.  The graphic novel also included an adaptation of ‘Twilight At The Towers’ that was adapted from Barker’s original short that appeared in ‘Books Of Blood: Volume Six’ (1985).

Rawhead Rex – 60 pages
Just outside of the quaint rural town of Zeal, Thomas Garrow is mystified as to why the three-acre field he had just inherited had been left to fallow for so many years.  He has no intention of seeing it continue to go to such waste.  But as he ploughs the fields in preparation for the new crop, Garrow discovers a vast slab of stone buried deep within the dark earth of the field.  He knows that he will have to get the stone out if he wishes to continue ploughing the field year after year.  And so he gets to work, digging out the vast block of stone.  And after hours of hard work, as he nears the end of his task, he finally realises the horrific errors of his ways.  In a noxious cloud of fetid gas, the great beast reaches out from its stale tomb, having been woken after hundreds of years.  Towering over the farmer with its powerful nine-foot body, Garrow has seconds to live before the gaping mouth containing the beast’s vicious teeth rips through the flesh of the farmer, killing him in one horrific bite.  At last, after so many hundreds of years, the beast is once again free to take back what it knows rightfully belongs to it.  It’s time for Rawhead to reap its revenge on mankind.  And in doing so it will feast and devour and dominate, until there’s nothing left to kill...

Oh yes this is a violent one.  Here we see Barker donning his ‘splatterpunk’ hat, truly going hell for leather with a pulpish monster-on-the-rampage romp with a surprisingly dark undertone running through it.  The inclusion of the Vicar Coot character adds a truly inspired tone of blasphemous desecration to the proceeding tale.  Indeed, Barker plays around with a brutal beast-on-the-rampage plot with this added blasphemous element to keep the tale going on two throat-grabbing levels.  The beast – Rawhead Rex – is described to such fear inducing perfection.  The storyline is action filled, gory, fast-paced and bursting at the seams with visceral scenes of vivid splatter.  Barker shows absolutely no mercy in the short.  Anyone could be the next victim.  And almost everyone is.  Quite simply put, it’s one hell of a read.

Steve Niles’ graphic novel adaptation is a remarkable achievement. Okay, so the story is condensed sown somewhat, with a number of less important scenes chopped out.  But for such a non-stop bloodbath of a read, Niles has managed to cram in the mayhem, whilst still juggling the blasphemous Vicar Coot frolics, as well as holding together the all-important ‘feminine spirituality’ element to keep the graphic novel on track with the original short.  Furthermore, the beast ‘Rawhead’ is a particularly close representation of what Barker describes in his original short.  Illustrator Les Edwards has clearly paid close attention to Barker’s intricate descriptions of Rawhead, bringing to visual life the grotesquely distorted features of this age-old beast.

Twilight At The Towers – 29 Pages
The British Security Service had stationed their agent, Ballard, within Berlin.  This was to be his last assignment.  His meeting with the Russian KGB was a risky one.  Ballard would be acting as a fellow KGB member for three months, after which his duties would be as good as over.  He would go into hiding from then on.  But soon after Ballard and Mironenko meet for the first time, the Russian disappears.  And then when Ballard witnesses the after effects of a savage killing in a dark alleyway, the whole predicament seems to get a hell of a lot stranger.  There seems to be something about the agents.  Something under the skin of them that turns almost feral.  Ballard is beginning to learn that he’s more than just a man.  A beast lies submerged under his human-like skin.  A beast that’s waiting to rise.  But the governments have their own ideas of how to utilise this situation.  Pitted against each other, the beasts will fight for them.  Mere puppets to their overseeing whims.  But Ballard has other ideas.  This is not how he wants it to go...

The somewhat overbearing complexities of the utterly elaborate scenario that Barker sets down for the short’s premise, sets the tale off on a stunted and much too cluttered pace.  Intricacies and governmental conspiracies, mixed with back-stabbing and a wealth of unexplained oddities make for quite a standoffish read.  However, as the smoke of the confusing backdrop slowly clears, so a fast and furious tale of werewolf Armageddon begins to appear.  The action and pace suddenly cranks up a good hundred notches, with Ballard’s realisation at the truth behind this whole elaborate affair bringing a much needed shot of adrenaline into the tale.  And just as the tension and werewolf frolics are beginning to get particularly interesting, the short is flipped on its head and brought to a final (somewhat open-ended) conclusion.  It’s one of those stories that improves with a second and perhaps even a third read.  Unusually complex with a little too much shoehorned into the limited space of a short story to really hit home with the effect that Barker was obviously trying to achieve.

Speaking of shoehorning a complex premise into a tale, this is magnified tenfold in the graphic novel adaptation.  From the outset the reader is pretty much bombarded by a veritable wall of text that seems to encroach way too much upon Hector Gomez’s visual depictions of the tale.  I’m not entirely sure if Steve Niles could have tackled the adaptation in any other way.  It instantly feels too much.  Too compressed and too overcrowded.  There’s no time to incorporate any of the characterisation that Barker injected into his original story.  It’s a point-by-point piece of comic book fiction, with a mass of details to cover, to work around, and an obvious goal to finally reach within a certain number of pages.  It’s a shame, and perhaps a very bad choice of story to adapt into this format.

The graphic novel runs for a total of 89 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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