Comic Review: The Rattler

In Comic Books, Image by Regan Lorie1 Comment

Imagine you’re on a road trip with a friend, and your car runs out of gas on a dark and lonely stretch of road. You flag down a large truck, whose driver offers to give you a tow to the nearest gas station. Securing the vehicle to his rear bumper with rope, the driver suggests you push as he pulls the car onto the street with his truck, your friend in the car’s driver seat, steering. Suddenly, the truck lunges forward, gaining speed as you realize you’re left behind…and your friend has been taken along for the ride.
This was a true story that happened to comic writer Jason McNamara. In real-life, the rope snapped, freeing the vehicle and McNamara’s friend from certain and unknown danger. McNamara’s latest graphic novel The Rattler, however, explores the question that haunts the writer to this day: What would have happened if the ill-intentioned trucker had used a chain instead of a rope?
Stephen Thorn has just sold his first novel and is about to propose to his girlfriend when she is kidnapped in the aforementioned fashion. Ten years after the abduction, he has parlayed the unfortunate incident into a successful career as a victims’ rights advocate. The disappearance of Catherine is now just another cold case, yet Stephen refuses to relinquish hope in his desperate search for her. And then one day he begins to hear her voice, calling for his help from the mouths of the dying. Is it a delusion? A dream? With his own organization hot on his trail, Thorn’s body count rises as he hunts down the truth about Catherine’s fate, with some shocking revelations and unexpected turns along the way.
Because for me all roads lead to some song or movie, I couldn’t help but note the immediate similarities between The Rattler and George Sluizer’s The Vanishing (preferably the creepier and more superior 1988 Dutch-French production over the director’s own, much shittier 1993 remake, in which Sandra Bullock disappears from a TA Travel Center at the hands of a pre-Dude Jeff Bridges). The premise is pretty much the same: woman disappears, man left behind goes off the deep end, consumed with trying to find her. But where Sluizer’s films deal mainly with the effects of loss and with the presence of evil on a more mundane level, The Rattler focuses in on themes of obsessive love, revenge, justice, a sliding moral compass, and victimization as justification for any behavior seen fit. Twists and turns abound, culminating in an ending different from what you’d expect. At times it’s a little challenging to keep up with the constant influx of new characters, but Stephen Thorn is the mainstay, an appropriately complex central figure; while he may not always do the honorable thing, he remains a sympathetic and intriguing character to the very last panel.
Artist Greg Hinkle’s scenes play out in stark, gritty black and white, the bright red presence of blood being the only color in the entire novel–sort of the opposite of what Tarantino did in the Crazy 88 fight scene in Kill Bill: Vol. 1–heightening the impact of its increasingly more violent scenes. Characters are realized in a mildly caricaturesque style (similar to that of Detroit illustrator Mark Rudolph), and the more grotesque moments have an old-school horror comic feel that intensifies the story’s creep factor.
Initially a privately published Kickstarter-funded project, The Rattler is now available in comic shops near you thanks to Image Comics. If a scary story with a sad and sympathetic bent is what you seek, I highly recommend checking this one out.
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