Friday, December 19, 2008 08:06 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

This covers new releases from the week of 12/10, plus a trade paperback poppy found for me at the library. She's a nice lady.

Back issues and old data
Universal Monsters: Cavalcade of Horror
This is an interesting book. It's comic book adaptations of four of the classic Universal monster movies: The Mummy, Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. I can't be certain about Creature, as it's been a long time since I've seen that movie, but as far as all the others go, these adaptations are exactly faithful to the movies in terms of dialogue, and in many cases also in terms of visuals, with the shots from the film recreated in almost perfect detail. Of course, that doesn't mean they include all the dialogue from the movies; in many cases, certain lines or sequences were cut to keep the length down. But what is included is pretty much exactly the same.

I've seen The Mummy many times, so reading the comic of it was almost boring, it was such an exact copy. Still, as I said, there are things missing, some of which are rather important; in some cases the things taken our were so important that someone less familiar with the story might even find themselves a bit confused. Cutting things from these movies is dangerous, because they're so short and lean and fast that everything in them is pretty much essential to the plot and character. More importantly, it's very difficult to match the pacing of a comic to the pacing of a movie without having a lot more pages to work with than they had here. All of these adaptations, except perhaps Creature, feel sped up, choppy, like too much has been forced to fit within each panel, and not enough time (which equals space in comics) has been taken to establish scene and create atmosphere.

The opening scene of The Mummy, for instance - where the mummy rises and walks out, driving to madness the man who sees him - a scene which is so creepy and effective in the film (in fact, it's probably one of the best scenes in any horror movie ever, for my money) goes by here far too quickly and choppily to have real impact. The sequence in which Helen attempts to enter the museum in answer to the mummy's call is similarly stunted. And the scene where the mummy makes the Nubian servant his slave is even worse; it's done in only three panels and you no longer even get a sense of what's going on. On the other hand, they did a very good job of editing down the flashback sequence (the one in which Imhotep tells the story of his ancient unholy act and death sentence). Only the essential bits are here, and it all makes sense. Also, while I understand why they cut it (it's really not integral to the plot), I'm very sad that one of my favorite lines in the movie has been lost. In the film, when Helen first meets Frank, he's telling her about going through Ankhsenamun's clothes and toilet things, and she asks him why they did that, and he responds, "Had to! Science, you know!" Brilliant!

Actually, it's interesting, Frank in general comes off as slightly less of a twit and a dumbass in this version of the story, because some of his dumber moments have been edited out. That's actually kind of sad; I always liked that all the men and scientists in this story are utterly powerless and even faintly ridiculous, and it's ancient, feminine magic that has to save the day in the end.

Frankenstein is probably the strongest and best of the stories. Tony Harris' art in The Mummy is rather good, and pretty faithful to the look of the film, but Den Beauvais - who provides the script, art, and letters for Frankenstein - captures the faces of the actors, the look of the sets, and even the sound effects with exacting realism. He also does a better job of matching the pacing of the film, although there are a few moments where he falls short. The scene in the movie in which the man walks into the village carrying his drowned daughter is extremely powerful, but here it's taken care of in two quick panels, and in the first one he and the girl are surrounded by people and pushed off to the side of the panel, so you totally lose the impact of it. Also, earlier in the book, when Frankenstein says Fritz always tormented the creature, you have to take his word for it, because you've only seen him torment the creature once. Still, overall the story is told very well, with beautiful visuals. I particularly like some of the neat things done with triptychs near the end of the story, when the villagers are armed with torches and are headed out to hunt the creature down. Really my largest complaint about this story is, believe it or not, the lettering. I almost never even notice the lettering in comics, but in this case Beauvais has made the terrible decision to write all the words in big, blocky, bland computer type, and place them inside boxy, rigid, computer-generated word bubbles. It just looks clunky and it's all wrong for the story.

Next up is the worst story of the bunch, Dracula. Perhaps not coincidentally, this is also my least favorite of the movies. But writer Dan Vado has taken what was already a weak vampire films and turned into something even clunkier and less effective. Jonathan D. Smith's fuzzy and occasionally hideously ugly art doesn't help, either. The story starts off on the wrong foot right away, by skipping over one of my favorite scenes in the book and the various movies: the scene in which Renfield/Harker arrives in town and tells the villagers he's headed to Dracula's castle. Their reaction is always priceless. You're going where?! But the comic starts with him already in the carriage and most of the way there. There's also a bit too much narration. They're trying to capture the feeling from the novel of you reading the man's journal, but it doesn't really work; Renfield just ends up over-explaining things you can already see in the panels. His transformation from the sane man who's doing the narrating to an insane, blood-thirsty slave of Dracula takes place literally between one panel and the next. It doesn't work at all. The comic also utterly fails to capture the horror of another of my favorite scenes from the book and the movies: Dracula's journey across the ocean on the Vesta. This is definitely the best and most disturbing sequence in the novel, and is often just as eerie and effective in the films, but here it's practically skipped over.

This story is the worst of all at capturing the pacing of the film; it's rushed and choppy. Also, whereas the art is sometimes quite excellent, especially when it's an exact copy of a shot from the film, or when it's a luxuriant portrait of a beautiful woman (it's almost creepy how much time and effort seems to have been spent on some of the paintings of the women, and the scene where Lucy is bitten by Dracula is ridiculously sexualized), other panels are so clumsy and ugly that they seem to have been painted by a child. The depictions of the sailors on the ship are some of the worst drawings in the comic.

One of the most egregious errors in the comic is the way it changes the story, but fails to change it consistently. In this book, Dracula does not bite Mina the first time he comes to her, but instead just sort of bends her to his will. The next morning, Van Helsing says to her, "Tell me, Miss Seward, how long have you had these marks on your throat?" But of course, in this version of the story, Dracula has not bitten her yet at this point, so when they do a close up drawing of her throat, there are no marks on it. Yet the dialogue continues to suggest that there are. I can only assume the artist and the writer weren't talking to each other at all, and nobody actually looked at this before it went to the printer. Pretty big screw up, fellas!

There are a couple of interesting changes to the end of the story. When Dracula kills Renfield, it's far more violent and gory than it was in the film; he actually reaches into the guy's chest and rips his heart out. That seems unnecessary. Later, there's a fascinating setup for a sequel. After Dracula has apparently been killed, Jonathan says to Mina, "Come, dear. Let's go." She says, "Yes... yes?... Yes, of course." As she's saying this, she's looking back over her shoulder, into the crypt, as if she's talking to someone else back there. She tells Jonathan she's all right, but is she still under Dracula's control somehow? This is actually a pretty interesting addition to the story.

The final adaptation in this collection is of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The art here (pencils by the famous Art Adams, inks by Terry Austin, colors by Matt Hollingsworth) is the most "comic booky" of any of the art so far; it's less realistic and more stylistic, almost like a cartoon. The dialogue's a bit corny, but I suspect most of it is pulled directly from the film, so it's hard to blame author Steve Moncuse. The pacing might be the smoothest and best of any of the stories in the book. It's a pretty well-told story, and the creature looks fantastic. It's a little hard to believe that by the end of the story they'd still sympathize with the creature to the extent that they stop shooting at it and let it wander off into the lagoon (I wouldn't have stopped shooting until I was out of bullets, or the thing was a bloody stain on the ground - it killed how many people??), but again, I'm pretty sure that's something that's copied over from the source material.

Overall, a fun and interesting collection. I particularly enjoyed Frankenstein. And I should mention Eric Powell's entertaining introduction, where he professes his love for the original films.
Thumbs Up

New releases
Action Comics #872
This issue opens with Superman still trying to get Supergirl's mom to cough up the identities of the Kryptonians who killed those cops. Superman and Supergirl's family are wandering around in Brainiac's ship while they talk, and the Kryptonians are all up in there trying to free Brainiac's other captives, without success. Suddenly Luthor succeeds in taking control of Brainiac, somehow causing the ship's prison cells to open and its defense mechanisms to switch on. Some old DC Comics characters called the Creature Commandos had been picked up by Brainiac a while back, so they are now released from their stasis and end up helping Superman and the other Kryptonians fight Brainiac's robots. Meanwhile, Metallo and Reactron, working with Luthor, take out some Kryptonians, and Luthor is handed the body of Doomsday, with which he clearly plans to do something naughty. The Justice League is called together to decide what to do about Kandor, and there's a really quick, one-panel look at what Nightwing and Flamebird are up to (turns out they're looking for Batman, without success).

It's not a great issue. Pete Woods' art is mediocre. I'm getting tired of Superman constantly preaching about not hurting the humans and getting all noble and self-important about it. I don't care about the Creature Commandos - they're pretty lame. I don't care about Nightwing and Flamebird - and it looks like Geoff Johns doesn't really care about them either, since he included them here seemingly as an afterthought. On the positive side, I'm intrigued by Luthor's plans, and it was kind of cool to see some Kryptonians get wasted (I hate those stuck-up bastards). Plus I'm fascinated to see what the Justice League decides to do about Kandor, and how Superman ends up feeling about it. Hopefully the series will pick up again next issue.
Thumbs Sideways

Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes #2
Warren Ellis seems to have used the second part of this two-part miniseries to try to write the most depressing X-Men stories of all time. This miniseries, if you'll remember, is taking a look at what might have happened if the recent events in Asonishing X-Men had taken place in different worlds where things went another way. The first story in this book is called "The Last Testament of Scott Summers," and opens with the title character preparing to commit suicide in a rather unique fashion. In this world, Cyclops made slightly different choices when trying to capture Suspect X, choices that led to an apocalyptic scenario wherein pretty much everybody but Cyclops was killed - and he was only left alive because he wasn't worth killing. Haunted by the ghosts of the past and by his own part in all this destruction and death, he decides to end it all.

And if that was too cheery for you, wait till you read the next story! It's called simply "4," and again takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. This time Armor, Wolverine, and Beast are the survivors, walking across the wasted landscape of America on the way to their last hope, which is likely a trap. But really only Armor is whole; Beast's mind has gone, and Wolverine's legs are bent and crippled - Armor has to push him along in a wheelchair. It's an incredibly dark and sad story, with a shattering ending, and a particularly twisted Warren Ellis moment in the middle, wherein it's revealed that one night Beast flipped out and tore some flesh off of Wolverine, and they were so hungry they decided to cook it and eat it. Argh! Few people have considered the fact that Wolverine is an inexhaustible food source, but trust Ellis to find the nasty side of any mutant power!

Definitely not the book to read if you're feeling down, but it's powerful, intriguing, and well written, and the art in both parts (courtesy Clayton Crain in part one, and Kaare Andrews in part two) is quite beautiful.
Thumbs Up

B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #2
This is the second (and I believe last?) B.P.R.D. one-shot set during the period when the gang was fighting the plague of frogs. It follows a group of regular B.P.R.D. soldiers who have been sent to clear the frogs out of an old battleship. But after a pretty exhaustive search of the ship, they're unable to find any. They prepare to leave, only to find that the door out has been jammed closed, and one of their number is suddenly missing. From there on in it's a straight-out suspense thriller/slasher movie-style horror story. It's kind of like Aliens on a boat, and just as in Aliens, it's just as much an examination of the characters of the soldiers as it is an adventure/horror tale. It's brutal, tense, disturbing, effective, moving, and absolutely fantastic. The art, by John Severin, isn't my favorite, but it does the job, and it's backed up by the always excellent work of writer John Arcudi and colorer Dave Stewart.
Thumbs Up

Buckaroo Banzai: The Prequel #2
I read the first issue of this two-issue miniseries way back in August. I'm not sure what took so long, but here we are with the second part finally. Sadly, it's not really as fun as the first part, although it is certainly just as strange. There are some good bits, but it's just so very, very weird that I read it in a constant state of semi-confusion. After the main story is a four-page backup story by Dave Flora called "The Cast-Iron Coffin." It's done in black and white and set during 1948, and it's done in the style of old pulp serials, starring a character named Ghost Zero. He's a regular dude who can use a spirit ring to allow a friendly ghost to possess his body, and thus fight evil. In this story, he faces off against a Japanese submarine with a crew of ghosts (and one living human) who are still fighting the war. The art is pretty good, but the dialogue and story are a bit corny and dull. I'm not a huge fan.
Thumbs Sideways

Captain Britain and MI13 #8
The team continues to try to stop an invasion of Earth by the Duke of Hell. Cap figures out he's in a trap, but can't figure out how to escape. Meanwhile, the guys outside manage to capture a mindless one, and then one of said guys jumps in the cage with it. Not sure what's going to happen with that. Finally, a betrayal traps all the rest of our heroes in the house, too. How will they get out of this one?? Obviously I'll have to buy the next issue to find out. I understand that's how these things work.

Not an Earth-shatteringly good issue, but it continues the story in an interesting way. I'll stay on the bandwagon for now.
Thumbs Up

Punisher: War Zone #1
Reading the first volume of Preacher turned me off of Garth Ennis for a long time, but now that I've read his fantastic Dan Dare, I'm warming back up to him again. I'd heard a lot of good stuff about his Punisher stories, so I decided to try this new Marvel Knights miniseries. In order to buy this comic, I had to once again defeat my natural desire to read things in their correct order, as this series is a follow-up to another series that I haven't read yet - "Welcome Back, Frank." I hear great things about that first series, so I'll have to go back and read it soon, especially since this series is pretty fantastic so far. It opens with a unique and darkly comic sequence wherein a small-time mobster named Charlie walks along the beach with his best pal, Andy, and they talk quietly and calmly about how Andy is going to have to kill Charlie for something he did. It's twisted and funny. Charlie ends up surviving, thanks to the Punisher, who needs him to go undercover for him and figure out who this new mob family is that's popped up, claiming to be distant relatives to the Gnuccis, a family he thought he already wiped out. He finds out first-hand at the end of the story that he wasn't quite right.

There are also a couple of subplots included in here, one about a kid who's planning to take up his Dad's mantle as a racist supervillain (and who sees the Punisher as his archenemy), and another about a lesbian cop, also on the Gnucci case, who's violently jealous of her lover's relationships with men. It's a pretty twisted story, with a pretty twisted sense of humor, but that's Ennis for you. I might get disgusted and put the story down later, but for now I'm enjoying it quite a bit.
Thumbs Up

Secret Invasion: Dark Reign #1
This is a one-shot which is meant to bridge the gap between Marvel's last big story arc and its next big story arc. It's written by the architect of both, Mr. Brian Michael Bendis, with art by Alex Maleev and colors by Dean White. Emma Frost is the main character, and the story opens with her waking from a nightmare where she's being tortured with guilt over the loss of Kitty Pryde. She receives an invitation from Norman Osborn to that little meeting that we saw her attending at the end of Secret Invasion. Turns out the meeting takes place in a sub-basement of Avengers Tower. When Emma shows up, the only other person there is Doom, which makes for a comically uncomfortable couple of moments. Then Namor shows up and the whole thing goes to hell. I know Namor is supposed to be a bit of a dick, but he's also supposed to be intelligent, proud, self-reliant, and clean-shaven. Bendis depicts him here as a sleazy, ignorant idiot who looks to Doom for his orders. Maleev draws him in a way that complements that depiction: this Namor is chubby, ugly, and has some nasty looking stubble on his face. I don't even like Namor that much, but this depiction of him really got my comic book geek hackles up. It's just all wrong. They've completely betrayed the character. The only thing he says in the whole comic that sounds like the Namor I know is: "Osborn. I don't like you and I don't trust you."

Anyway. The rest of the story. Norman finally shows up, explains what this motley group has in common, and puts his offer to them on the table: he'll lay off of them and let them do what they like if they promise to lay off of him, and to do little favors for him from time to time. I'm curious as to who Norman's mysterious and shadowy friend is with whom he threatens them all. And I'm curious to see how they all decide to respond to his offer. Namor and Doom seem to be planning to say yes, but it's just part of a scheme to take over the world after Osborn inevitably loses it. It's less clear how the others feel, although I assume they will all at least initially say yes, or this story arc won't go much of anywhere. Anyway, after the meeting is done, there's a pretty shocking scene between Swordsman and Osborn where Osborn seems to already be well on his way to losing it, as Doom predicted. In the final pages, Emma is once again tormented by her nightmare about Kitty. The recurring nightmare is an interesting touch that makes Emma seem more human than she's usually depicted. Plus I like the reference back to Whedon's Astonishing X-Men run, and to Kitty, whom I enjoy and would like to see more of at some point.

The main story is followed by a three-page preview of Secret Warriors, a series coming in February that follows Nick Fury and the team of commandos he put together to fight the Skrull invasion. Apparently that gang is going to stick together and keep fighting evil. Next is a three-page preview of Agents of Atlas, another new series coming in February, this one focusing on an old Marvel team that they're relaunching. Looks like from the preview that they're going to rob Fort Knox. Huh. Finally, there's yet another three-page preview, this one of Greg Pak's War Machine. The story is about some guys trying to build an oil pipeline in the Arctic Circle who mind-control some bears to get their way. Weird. I haven't been following the story of Jim Rhodes, but it looks like some bad things have happened to him lately. Anyway, he heads down to check out the bear situation, and that's it.

It's hard to get much of a feel for these books from the short previews included here. I don't see anything in them I really love, but I don't see anything in them I really hate, either. I'll probably buy at least the first issue of each of these series, and hopefully that will give me a better idea of whether I like them or not.

Overall, I'm interested to see where this new arc is going to go, but I'm worried about how it's going to turn out. There's a lack of really good dialogue or interesting story in this book, and what they did with Namor is an abomination. Anyway, we'll see what happens...
Thumbs Sideways
Tagged (?): B.P.R.D. (Not), Comic books (Not), Movies (Not), Punisher (Not), Superman (Not), The Take (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), X-Men (Not)

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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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