Something magical happens every month, and I’d like to keep it that way.
Eight years ago, on June 13th 2008, Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise ended a fourteen year run that spanned continents and decades, blurring the lines between what we remember about love and how it actually happened, breaking down barriers in the comics industry by telling a story about two women in love, and all of the people in their lives. Simply put? It was a hell of a book.
When I closed the last page of Strangers in Paradise, it was hard to imagine the idea that Francine and Katchoo’s story was over. I mean, a world without new Strangers in Paradise was like a world without music, right? But lately, I’m starting to think that the music never stopped – the band is just playing an entirely different song.
Before we get to that, though, let’s not forget that Terry Moore wrote and drew a 30-issue superhero epic called Echo post-SiP, and also wrote some Runaways and Spider-Man for Marvel. Echo, as you’d expect, is stellar – it’s to the superhero story what SiP is to romance… it’s very uniquely Terry Moore. Harlan Ellison waxed poetic about it a while back, saying “Terry Moore does an acre more straight-up memorable storytelling in one black & white issue of ECHO than either of the two comics ‘giants’ in a years’-worth of their prolix, boring, barren crossover ‘events.’ This, ECHO, is what we long for, would die for.” Echo lives up to that, for sure. But as stellar as Echo was, as much as it stood head and shoulders above the rest of the superhero fare (which I personally wouldn’t call barren – I love them in different ways, with admittedly far different intensity), what Terry would draw next is entirely different.
Because now, there’s something magical that happens every month.
It began in a dark, swampy woods… with a woman watching as the ground below her moved. As crows scattered in the sky, a single dead leaf drifts to the ground, settling on the wet dirt below where the woman stood. The leaf bursts into flames, until it is nothing. And then, a hand emerges from the ground, reaching for something to grab onto. A leg kicks free, and then another. The first time we see Rachel rise from her shallow grave, her eyes red, a horrible gas leaking from her lips, the woman who stood above her, watching, wasn’t impressed.
But fuck, I was.
As Rachel walked away from her grave at the end of the stunning, silent ten-page sequence that began Rachel Rising, I was chilled to the bone. Was she alive? Was she undead? Something worse? I didn’t know, and the genius part of the book was that neither did she. Rachel, much like she crawled out of the grave, forces herself back into her life, even though she and all of those around her are still grasping to figure out what happened to her. It’s a killer whodunit, but not in the way we’ve come to expect from the current glut of mainstream superhero and crime comics, written and drawn with a nostalgic love of noir. Everything that we loved about the cast of Strangers in Paradise makes Rachel Rising what it is – the characters are painfully flawed, but they’re desperate for human connection. They’re inappropriate, they’re weird in a way we still don’t see very often in comics. They’re idiosyncratic. They’re goddamn adorable, sometimes. While all of that was in Strangers in Paradise, it seems more frantic in Rachel Rising – the stakes are higher here. Apocalyptic, even. As death hangs over these people, every interaction, ever touch, every significant look, every word weighs heavier… for them, and for us.
There are currently five trade paperbacks, with the first four telling a distinct story, with the fifth offering a new entry point while still playing out the ongoing mysteries. I admit, somewhat shamefully, that I am a trade waiter. I try not to be. I’ll support indie creators and their series, but even when I buy single issues, I’ll sometimes find myself waiting for the trade. I support to support, because I don’t really mind waiting – maybe bingeing TV has spoiled me in that way. I can’t do that with Rachel Rising, though, because that would be missing its magic.
Go on and pick up a single issue of Rachel Rising. See how Terry Moore uses silent scenes in a way that’ll punch you in the gut. Watch him take a horror trope that gives everyone nightmares – a scary, possessed little girl with a knife – and make her the most endearing character on shelves. Watch as he surprises you every issue – hell, I’ve read the trades over and over, and I buy it monthly, and I still have no idea what to expect every month. Rachel Rising is published independently, through Moore’s own Abstract Studios, so he can pretty much do whatever he wants, and it shows. Some issues are shorter than you’d expect, because that’s the story. It’s hard to really grasp how lucky we are to get an issue of this series, written and drawn by arguably one of the best to ever do it on both fronts, every month. In an age where independent comics are as popular as they are, where quality is key, where even Marvel and DC are looking for creators to do their own thing, Rachel Rising should be outselling Spider-Man. You want to see what the pinnacle of creator-owned comics can be? In Rachel Rising, there’s no format, there’s no real structure, there’s no limitations, there’s no expectation – nothing but magic.
That is something I’d like to keep going.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Robyn Hood, Family Pets, Charmed) and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). He wishes he could draw like Terry Moore, but will settle on writing like that guy on the subway talking to himself.