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RAIN
By
ROLF F. STARK, MARLENE STEVENS (Tundra; 1993)

This graphic novel collects the six issues of writer/illustrator Rolf F. Stark and co-writer Marlene Stevensí early nineties underground comic RAIN together with the graphic short ďLove in the Afternoon,Ē written and illustrated by Stark (and initially published in the graphic anthology TABOO).  The latter--a gruesome account of a Nazi concentration camp director who engages in degrading sexcapades with a woman prisoner each day and then returns to a life of quiet normalcy with his wife and children--has no direct bearing on the events of RAIN, but adequately sets the tone.

     Who exactly might want to sign on for this wild ride, which includes incredibly graphic episodes of perverted sex, torture and quite possibly the most vivid depictions of pure psychosis Iíve ever experienced in a comic?  Not too many readers, frankly, as proven by the fact that RAIN and its talented creator have fallen into obscurity.  Yet it remains one of the most remarkable graphic novels of the nineties, a stunning torrent of rage, madness and bloodletting guaranteed to leave scars.

     As if all that werenít uncommercial enough, the saga is related in a fractured and impressionistic manner that demands a far higher than average degree of reader participation.  Told through minutely detailed black and white illustrations with little in the way of shading or contrast, it often feels like a sustained Rorschach test, a crazy-quilt juxtaposition of reality, hallucination and memory.  

     Itís the story of Kurt, a German war veteran turned New York City cab driver.  His tale, related via flashbacks, opens with a childhood memory of being bombed by the allies during WWII.  After the war ends Kurt is conscripted into mercenary service in Africa, where heís made privy to further horrors of war.  Even worse, a voluptuous sorceress inducts Kurt into a vortex of black magic that leaves him a freaked-out basket case.  Later Kurt and his war buddy Billy are thrust into a nightmarish psychic maelstrom by an Asian mystic who designates them a couple, with Billy the male and Kurt the female. 

     This in turn leads to an identity crisis that has Kurt, upon emigrating to the U.S., becoming a transvestite.  As such heís made the bitch of a sociopathic mobster, and is thus inducted into a world as unsparing as the one he left behind.  But the worst is yet to come: in the final chapter Billy puts a hit out on Kurt, forcing a final martial arts tinged confrontation between these once close allies.  

     Weíre also treated to harrowing depictions of Nazi atrocities (courtesy of a pair of supporting characters) and child abuse (which marred Kurtís pre-WWII existence).  Sound like fun?  Hardly, but Kurtís sordid tale has a grim fascination.

     Thereís an undeniably poetic charge to the story and artwork you just wonít find in too many other comics.  I understand many of you probably wonít want to read RAIN, it being a profoundly uncompromising, unflinching and unsparing work.  Far from a life-affirming experience, RAIN is a veritable kick in the teeth that will very likely leave the reader feeling as deranged as its protagonist.
 


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