I went through a brief stint in high school of loving Edgar Allen Poe's short stories. He had a definite sense of the macabre, but also a stunning gift for words, and a way of weaving characters, ideas, and taut suspense that's perhaps only rivaled by today's Stephen King. And though I no longer love him the way I used to, I still respect him as a classic writer and perhaps one of the founders of the horror and suspense genres. So when I found this graphic novel adaptation of some of his classic short stories, I knew I had to take a look.
The problem with any collaberative work, "Nevermore" included, is that quality is never a constant. No anthology is ever completely good or completely bad -- there will always be at least one truly bad story in every work, and one truly good one in every work. While I mostly enjoyed "Nevermore," I found the individual adaptations to be rather hit and miss, both in the writing and in the art style.
A brief run-down of each tale:
"The Raven" is the only story in this collection to use the original text, which is fitting given that it's a poem rather than a true short story. It keeps the dark and gloomy tone of the original poem, even if the dark illustrations sometimes make it difficult to know what's going on.
"The Pit and the Pendulum" is perhaps my least favorite story in this collection. It updates the story from the Spanish Inquisition to a "1984-ish" dictatorship, and the art style is hyper-realistic in comparison to the stylized tone of much of the rest of the book. It replaces the taut horror of the original with heavy-handed political commentary, its replacement for the original Pendulum death machine is laughable, and it alters the hopeful (for Poe, anyhow) ending of the original story with a "downer" ending that just drives home the political heavy-handedness.
"The Facts In the Case of Mr. Valdemar" is the story of a hypnotist's session gone horribly wrong, and updates the original story quite well to the modern era. The illustrations here have a blurred, dreamy quality that nonetheless heighten the paranormal horror of the situation, and I easily found it to be the most chilling story in the anthology.
"The Murders In the Rue Morgue" takes a different twist from the other tales -- it sets its story in futuristic France instead of in the present. The visual style of the story is much "brighter" than the other tales, which is fitting given that it's a Holmes-esque mystery rather than horror. And I enjoyed the look of a future Paris, which maintains a Victorian European era despite the addition of robots, hovercraft, holograms, etc.
"The Fall of the House of Usher" is a rather confusing mess. Turning the titular Usher into a burned-out Osbourne-esque rock star, its story is difficult to follow, both due to the disjointed manner in which it's told and to the art -- crooked mismatched panels and a lineless black-and-white art style that obscures more than it shows. I never quite understood the original tale, and this adaptation didn't help matters.
"The Black Cat" sets the original tale of cruelty and madness in a failing circus, and turns the titular animal into an aging black panther that was once the star of the circus... and is now the target of the drunken ringmaster's rage. This "adaptation" is so loose that it bears little resemblance to the original story, which makes me wonder why it was included in this anthology in the first place. Also, the art is rather lackluster, with many of the characters suffering from "same-face syndrome."
"The Oval Portrait" is based on a Poe story that I had not read before, but seems to be well-adapted to the modern day. The characters' speech feels natural and unforced, and the art style makes each one look like a unique character and not just a copy of every other character. And it quietly builds its sense of dread through the story, with a final shocking twist that's pulled off quite well.
"The Tell-Tale Heart" turns the original madman protagonist (antagonist?) into a blind girl volunteering at a clinic for the visually impaired... who is creeped out enough by the newest resident to be driven to murder. This was my favorite story in the anthology, both for the story -- updated to the modern day, faithful to the original but with enough of a twist to make it fresh and interesting -- and the art style, which does an impressive job at conveying how a blind person might "see" their world.
"The Masque of the Red Death" updates the original in a clever way -- the titular plague comes across almost as a zombie outbreak, and Prospero is not a prince in this version, but the vain and bombastic Master of Ceremonies of a large science fiction convention. The art is passable and the final fate of the revelers is chilling... but I never quite felt like the attendees of the convention deserved their final fate like Prospero's revelers did, and the young protester who is the closest this story has to a protagonist comes off as annoying and preachy. (The fact that she's named Morales doesn't help...)
The book's "epilogue" is a brief illustrated biography of Edgar Allen Poe's life, but it focuses primarily on his death and barely touches on the rest of his life. Those interested in learning more about Poe would be advised to seek out an additional source of information instead of simply relying on this book's afterword.
All in all, while I did enjoy reading through this book once and will go back and re-read some of the stories for my own pleasure ("Mr. Valdemar," "Rue Morgue," and "Tell-Tale Heart" especially), it contained more misses than hits for me. The art and writing were rather inconsistent, and not all the stories fared well to being adapted for the modern day. Still, it's an offbeat and entertaining little volume, and probably worth at least one read, especially if you're a Poe fan.
I would encourage people who read this book to also find and read the original Poe stories. As interesting as an adaptation can be, I always find the original source to be better, and it's very difficult for an illustrated story to capture the feel of a classic Poe tale.