Rawhead Rex is an often overlooked entry in Clive Barker’s vast and imaginative library. It is a title which has been translated from it’s original text format to film and comic book format. In the mid 80’s Clive Barker released a series of books that were known as ‘The Books of Blood’. A series of volumes that contained powerful narratives which lingered in the readers imagination long after the books were closed and placed on a shelf. Barker is the master of dark, psychological suspense and terror and Rawhead Rex is certainly one of his classics.
Published by Eclipse Comics in 1993, this is Barker at his splatterpunk best. The story can be taken as a straight bloody monster romp through a quaint English village. But there’s deeper and far more unsettling tones to this story. It’s an examination of primal religious practices, of the sacred nature of sexuality and the feminine power often buried under the – now patriarchal Christian Church.
Just outside of the quaint rural town of Zeal, Thomas Garrow is mystified as to why the three-acre field he had just inherited had been left to fallow for so many years. He has no intention of seeing it continue to go to such waste. But as he ploughs the fields in preparation for the new crop, Garrow discovers a vast slab of stone buried deep within the dark earth of the field. He knows that he will have to get the stone out if he wishes to continue ploughing the field year after year. And so he gets to work, digging out the vast block of stone. And after hours of hard work, as he nears the end of his task, he finally realises the horrific errors of his ways. In a noxious cloud of fetid gas, the great beast reaches out from its stale tomb, having been woken after hundreds of years. Towering over the farmer with its powerful nine-foot body, Garrow has seconds to live before the gaping mouth containing the beast’s vicious teeth rips through the flesh of the farmer, killing him in one horrific bite. At last, after so many hundreds of years, the beast is once again free to take back what it knows rightfully belongs to it. It’s time for Rawhead to reap its revenge on mankind. And in doing so it will feast and devour and dominate, until there’s nothing left to kill…
Rawhead is the ultimate symbol for bestial, primal masculine power. In the comic version, the character design is clearly that resembling a giant penis. This was something hinted at in Barker’s original text and shied away from in the cinematic version. In the comic realm Barker’s original intention is given it’s full, powerful glory. The comic adaptation goes further than the film with insight given to the reader as to the monsters thoughts. There is no empathy that can be gleaned from them, just a terrible hunger and a fear of what lies beneath the altar of a local church.
It’s here that Barker turns his attention to the male dominated religion of the age. He invites the reader to learn the truth. That before dying and rising Gods, the sacred cult of the Goddess was venerated. This has been warped into a cult worshipping the mother of God – who is generally a virgin. Originally these Goddess figures were fertility figures, womanhood being the ultimate symbol of life. The stone portrayal of this fact is the iconography which the supremely masculine Rawhead Rex is terrified of.
It’s this beautiful twist, both subverting the traditional role of religion in horror comics – the priest coming to the rescue. Which truly elevates this narrative, it’s a portrayal of what happens to the masculine if they deny their feminine aspect. Barker is using powerful imagery to state that there must be a form of balance in society and within ourselves…
The artwork by Les Edward and Hector Gomez is equally as powerful as Barker’s prose. They manage to craft images to truly horrifying, gory, glory. These are dynamic scenes which far outstrip the tales cinematic counterpart.
I highly recommend searching this comic book out and treasuring it
Available on Amazon