Rachel Rising: A Retrospect

This morning, I finished reading Rachel Rising. I’ve spent this day – one of the coldest so far since summer gave way to autumn – thinking about Terry Moore’s latest opus, and how much I’ll miss reading new stories about its characters.


The Shadow of Death. Fear No Malus. Cemetery Songs. Winter Graves. Night Cometh. Secrets Kept. Dust to Dust. Those seven volumes complete the saga, Moore’s longest series after the 100+ issue Strangers and Paradise run that launched his career and made him a force to be reckoned with in the world of independent comics. Between Strangers and Rachel Rising, Moore produced work-for-hire as an artist and a writer on titles such as Runaways and Spider-Man, as well as another 30-issue creator-owned series, a superhero comic called Echo. His first foray into horror, Rachel Rising saw Terry Moore spin his darkest tale yet without losing sight of what made Strangers in Paradise one of the most incredible achievements in comics: his nuanced characterization, his focus on people over plot, and the sense of humor that pervades his work. What Moore understands with more depth than any other cartoonist that I’ve read is the balance of what makes people human. When something horrific or grotesque happens in Rachel Rising, just as when something tragic happened in Strangers and Paradise, the characters don’t stop being their funny, inappropriate, heroic, pathetic, hopeful selves.


I started reading Rachel Rising after the first few volumes were already published in trade paperbacks. After reading the first gripping volume, which begins with a woman digging herself out of grave and ends with a second awakening in a morgue, I raced to catch up so I could read the series monthly. Then, for about a year and a half, I was treated to 18 pages of Terry Moore’s story and art every month. Sometimes, the chapters would send the storyline forward in bounding leaps, answering questions we have been asking since the first issue. Other times, Moore would break from the narrative and slow down, focusing on a single character or relationship. Every month, though, there was no other contender for the best issue in my pile of pulls. There is no artist, full stop, ever, whose work has rewarded me so much for slowing down and taking in the scope of the art. Terry Moore has spoken about how he compares his work to TV rather than film, mentioning how he focuses on characters rather than background, and it’s true – his characters are the focal point, and the way they leap of the page alone makes him peerless. However, much of Rachel Rising – in the moments that it slows down and lets us live in the town of Manson with is characters – is comprised of immaculately detailed settings, where even each delicate leaf that falls to cursed ground only to burn to a crisp upon landing can be felt by the reader.


The depth of Terry Moore’s writing matches that of his artwork in Rachel Rising. The basic story is that Rachel, the “dead girl” (an earlier working title of the book), wakes up in a grave and digs her way out. Her eyes are red and her neck is scarred from the rope with which she was strangled. She reenters her life and alongside of her best friend Jet – a foul-mouthed, kinky, big-hearted mechanic – and her Aunt Johnny – a loving and kooky skeptic-but-for-good-reason who works at the morgue – must figure out who did this to her, and why. As she begins to unravel this mystery, which starts as a quest for revenge and turns into a journey of self-discovery, she encounters a witch named Lilith who wants the town of Manson to suffer, a little girl named Zoe who has something very evil inside of her, a fallen angel named Malus who yearns to bring hell to Earth, and a great deal of people with very, very bad intentions.

And then, there’s Earl, who just might be the sweetest mortician to ever walk the Earth.


I won’t say much about where it goes but, like Strangers in Paradise, it left me satisfied, emotionally spent, and just so damn sad that it’s over. There were a few dangling threads – and not threads that I thought would be left dangling, but actual plot points that were introduced and then dropped without resolution. These largest of these threads was still pretty minor – what did Doctor Sieman do to Aunt Johnny and why? – but all we can do, at this point, is hope for a follow-up. Though we do get complete emotional resolution in the last pages of this volume, a gag at the end leaves this world and its characters wide open for a sequel. And hey, Jet and Aunt Johnny first appeared as minor characters in Strangers in Paradise, so nothing is impossible. I can’t help but dream of a follow-up series with Zoe as the lead.


While Rachel Rising rests in peace, Terry Moore’s next ongoing series, Motor Girl, begins November 2nd. Just like Rachel Rising before it, this new comic is a complete departure from his previous tales. It’s about a girl named Samantha and her best friend – a gorilla – who work at a gas station that gets visited by UFOs. I want to end this retrospect by encouraging everyone who reads this site and everyone who is a fan of this lovely, vastly uncharted medium to get out there and support Motor Girl. Pick it up, put it on pre-order, talk about it… because not only the industry, but the entire art form, is incalculably richer for having a creator like Terry Moore consistently producing work that pushes at the boundaries of what comics can be.

PAT SHAND writes comics (Destiny NY, Robyn Hood, Van Helsing), novels (Iron Man, Avengers, Charmed), and pop culture journalism (Blastoff Comics, Sad Girls Guide). He believes Terry Moore just might be the finest cartoonist to ever grace the comic book industry.

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