Review: Richard Corben’s ‘The Conqueror Worm’

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The weird and supernatural is pulled off with gritty style in Richard Corben’s adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Conqueror Worm. On a visual level, this adaptation of Poe’s work is a highly imaginative interpretation about the inevitability of death. With just one look Corben’s artwork, these haunting images of worms and death will definitely get under your skin.

WRITTEN BY: Richard Corben
ART BY: Richard Corben
PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASE: November 21st, 2012

Under the sweltering heat of the sun, Colonel Mann rides across the never-ending desert on his horse. Compelled with the need for revenge, Mann continues on his journey, never stopping to eat and rest. Mann feels the thrill of satisfaction when he cold-heartedly murders his cheating wife and his rebellious cousin. With no one around to witness the crime, Mann thinks he’s getting away unpunished and blameless. But, fate has something special stored for Mann.

This is a unique adaptation of Poe’s famous poem, “The Conqueror Worm.” If you have read the poem, you understand that this piece is difficult to adapt. If you haven’t read it, do it now. There is very little story, just atmosphere and mood. What I really lik is how Corben works with Poe’s themes to offer a morality tale, which is similar to his previous work in the “Eerie” and “Creepy” anthologies. Corben plays around with some of Poe’s lines, bringing to life the theater, the play, and the puppets.

What I particularly enjoyed is how Corben brings in a Shakespearean twist to the climax. Just like in Hamlet’s “The Mousetrap,” the hand puppets reveal to the audience what really happened to Mann’s missing wife and cousin. Through gestures and props, the hand puppets re-enact the murder in front of the killer. To create suspense, Corben does a great job switching back and forth between the puppet show and the audience’s reactions.

What makes Corben’s hand puppets particularly creepy is the simplicity behind their design. These sock puppets don’t have detailed physical features, just three buttons for one facial expression. The designs are crude and minimal, making the puppeteer all the more mysterious. During the play, the puppetry is animated with grand hand waves and over-the-top black humor.

Saving the best for last, Corben kicks up the shock value during the final act of the puppet show. Corben visualizes the Conqueror Worm as parasitic invaders spewing out of a woman’s stomach like intestines. Take notice of the patch on Mann’s face because you might not notice this small detail the first time.

With a strong sense of tragic irony and an exaggerated flair for the dramatic, Richard Corben delivers a truly terrifying interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Conqueror Worm.” By staying true to the source material, Corben brings a sense off surrealism to Poe’s work. Admirers of Poe cannot deny how Corben’s artistic style provides a memorable picture of the literary genius like no other.

4/5 skulls

Reviewed by Jorge Solis