In The Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe

" intriguing version of what happened to America's master of the macabre ... let down a little by its questionable framing device and an uneven narrative ... however, the story's twists and turns provide good, spooky suspense, and the strong, lush visuals make it a treat for the eyes."

Reviewed by J. Edward Tremlett

Edgar Allan Poe has always been an enigma. There's no question the 19th century master of the macabre was quite often out of his head with booze or drugs - so much so that his "legitimate" work suffered. But there's also no question that his precise capturing of madness was just that: precise.

Poe's writing was no patchwork of happy accidents captured between drunken episodes. It was, instead, a careful application of the writer's art. Time and again, he looked into the darkness of the human soul and came back with some fresh and dreadful insight, and wrote these things into stories that were so good that, more than 150 years after his untimely death, they continue to chill the blood.

That said, we're still left with many questions about Poe's character, work habits and general state of mind. Was he just gazing into the darkness, or was he skating the edge of insanity through noxious drink and forbidden love? Or was he well over that edge, lost to light and reason, and held together only by the love of others?

The graphic novel In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe attempts to answer this question through a tale of dark fantasy - one that's lushly rendered, if not evenly-written, and not quite as hard-hitting or horrifying as one could expect from DC's Vertigo imprint. But in spite of those quibbles, In the Shadow is still a fascinating tale, and has some direct applications for fans of Wraith: the Oblivion.


The Story begins in modern times, when a disgraced scholar is handed a journal - one purported to be the last writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Hastily written on the last "free" night of his life, before he was taken to the hospital where he died a few days later, it acts as an explanation of his strange decisions and inconsistent behavior. And, much more than that, it is his last confessional: the tales he has written have not been entirely his own.

The narrative begins in 1831, in Baltimore, just after Poe's expulsion from the United States Military Academy. Penniless and adrift, he rekindles his ties with his paternal aunt, Maria, whom he woos into an incestuous relationship. But while they clearly love one another, he has severe problems with its consummation, haunted by what might be guilt, or something else.

He experiences problems in other areas, too - most notably his writing, which he finds a difficult labor, these days. He is driven to prove himself a "writer and scholar of national regard," thus proving his step-father wrong about his prospects. But night after night of feverish writing produces nothing of value, and he is soon overcome with a fear of failure.

It is then, while consumed with despair, that Poe begins to hear the voice - a ghostly whisper that claims to be his late, largely-unknown father, David Poe. The unseen ghost comes seeking amends, and promises to help Edgar in his endeavors: claiming to have brought "friends" who will aid him. "... we have designs," they say, "and will furnish that which you know not you already possess and that which you estimated you may one day be. We are yours to the grave."

Unsure of whether this is truth or a figment of his fevered mind, Edgar Allan Poe accepts. And these "friends" make good on their bargain, so that within the year he is writing with amazing confidence, and able to be the lover he wishes to be with his aunt Maria. But coupled with this progress is his uncomfortable but growing love for his aunt's daughter, Virginia, and a growing mistrust in his muses' true motives.

Needless to say, the muses are displeased with his lack of faith, and turn to physically assaulting him, so that he can "nevermore" doubt in their veracity. They also engineer a tragedy - one that they claim he always wanted to see happen, but one that he tries to steadfastly deny. This leads him to flee for Richmond, fearing for his loved ones' safety should he remain amongst them.

But his muses' inspiration does not exceed their reach, and he is left where he started: stymied in both love and creativity. The former is assuaged by bringing Maria and Virginia to Richmond, but the latter can only be aided by making a dangerous pilgrimage back to Baltimore, and the dark things that wait there for him. Fame comes unto him at last, but as Poe's love life grows more baroque, and his muses' power to affect both him and his lovers from afar comes into play, the narrative soon reaches a soul-shattering conclusion as he seeks "salvation and freedom from evils."


That all sounds pretty good, and by and large In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe is. That said, the framing device of the modern-day, disgraced scholar doesn't always work so well, and there are parts of the story that lag and crawl more than a bit. And while the story can be chilling at times, it's certainly no Poe story - that's for certain.

But what really sells the tale, overall, is the gorgeous art. The winning combination of Steven Parke and Stephen John Phillips {I, Paparazzi} that bring it to life, and their gorgeous, digitally-altered photographs give it the "umph" that mere pen and ink might not have done. The demonic muses don't always terrify, quite frankly, but when they're good, they're damned good - especially when David Poe comes to call in all his glory.


So what good is this for players of Wraith: the Oblivion? This story has "Spectre Cultist" written all over it, given the lengths they go to while grooming Poe for their purposes. It could also be some very sadistic and demanding Chanteur or Sandman patrons, too.

What's very good about this tale, however, is the way it cuts to the heart of the imagined Edgar Allan Poe, and fleshes out his fears, his desires and his troubles out for us to see. Those who want to portray a person haunted by ghosts should read this, and those who want a full layout of someone who could soon become a ghost should take a gander at this, too.


While it might not give a real answer as to the enigma of the writer's life, work and mental state, In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe tells an intriguing version of what happened to America's master of the macabre. It's let down a little by its questionable framing device and an uneven narrative, and could have had some harsher and darker chills. However, the story's twists and turns provide good, spooky suspense, and the strong, lush visuals make it a treat for the eyes. If it had been about someone else, it might have even given Poe, himself, an icy, mysterious smile to read, and for that I will give it 3 1/2 Skulls.

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