Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Miracle Pictographs
    Graphic Novel Reviews by Spencer Ellsworth
February 2010

What are Mom and Dad doing in there? Testing out some new super powers?

The Incredibles: Family Matters, Graphic Novel Adaptations That Must Happen

At this point, True Believer, unless you reside in warm southerly climes, you are sick of winter. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we've had a good three months of rain and wind. The sun's been coming up at eight and setting at four. In these dark times, my normal urge to curl up with Watchmen, Maus, Sandman or even Batman is stifled. I've got plenty of darkness. I want something fun. Something full of joyful explosions.

Time for The Incredibles. Oh, haven't you heard? You don't just watch it -- now you read it. Now if only there was a breakfast cereal.

The Incredibles: Family Matters from Boom! Comics is a direct continuation from the Pixar movie -- well, not exactly direct, since it doesn't show what happened with that Mole Man-type guy at the end of the movie.

(I love the transparent Fantastic Four-ness of the Incredibles, by the way. Some comic fans were put off by the fact that Helen was basically Reed Richards and Violet was basically Sue Storm. I say: guys, it looks like we won't get a decent Fantastic Four movie, set in the 60s with all the Kirbyesque trimmings, for years if ever. And it will take just as many years to forget how putrid the recent ones were. If The Incredibles is the next best thing, it's even more than I hoped for.)

Family Matters starts the family out battling Futurion, an evil robot from the -- you guessed it -- future. Futurion, through his "devolution bombs," has transformed most of the zoo into dinosaurish creatures that still retain some of their original features, like elephants whose noses have become Apatosaurus heads. It's the first of many of Marcio Takara's visual treats. His art is just as dynamic and alive as the movie's animation, but it's got a kinetic aesthetic all of its own, a deft switch between thick black action-packed lines and thin lines that accentuate detail, taking full advantage of the pen-and-ink joy that so many comic inkers can't quite master. Andrew Dalhouse's bright fun colors make it even better.

Halfway through the fight, Mister Incredible throws a punch at the robot that doesn't do much more than hurt his hand. "Odd," Futurion notes. "Last time we met that punch would have taken my head off."

It seems that Bob Parr, Mister Incredible, has inexplicably lost his super powers. As in the film, Bob blusters and bluffs while hiding his newfound handicap from his family. He secretly sees a doctor, the brother of the infamous Edna, the costume designer from the movie. The doctor, among other tests, hits his knees with a hammer the size of a Hummer. I likes me a comic that likes its visual gags.

The conclusion is unexpected, funny, and heartwarming. This comic is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but it's got all the charm and excitement of the movie.

For all that I love the Parrs, I bought Family Matters because of the writer. Mark Waid could well be the best writer in mainstream comics. In my mind, he's only surpassed in longevity and quality by Peter David. Waid wrote Kingdom Come, a Watchmen-type epic about a future Superman who has lost faith in humanity, and he wrote spectacular runs on Fantastic Four and The Flash. Besides Incredibles, he currently writes the Artist Formerly Known as Spider-Man, but we won't talk about that.

I like the respect that Boom! gives to their licensed property, culling such top talent for such a great franchise.

One more Incredibles-related note. Brad Bird, director of Incredibles, Iron Giant and Ratatouille, was born to direct said retro Fantastic Four movie.

So, loyal readers, after last month's discussion of comic-book adaptations, I have taken thought. It was like a Rodin sculpture, only more muscular.

I have thought upon which books, famous or otherwise, could really use a comic-book adaptation. And I have four. Three would have pleased the gods, but I couldn't help it; there were too many good ones.

First, Greg Keyes' Age of Unreason. This amazing four-book fantasy series stars Ben Franklin and Isaac Newton as a pair of alchemists battling the French king's dastardly plan to call Halley's Comet down on London. Our heroine, a consort to said French king, has just given birth to an Antichrist figure destined to recruit an army of evil spirits. And there are airship chases, gun battles, and swordfights that are 70% better than any other swordfights in fantasy, given that Mister Keyes is a fencing trainer.

Keyes writes great dialogue, so I'm going to leave the scripting to him. For the art, though, I call upon the lesser-known but spectacular Cam Kennedy. He's drawn a host of stuff, but Kennedy's most famous work was Star Wars: Dark Empire, where in pen-and-ink and watercolor, Kennedy created shattered worlds, hulking spaceships and space-chase scenes, like the opening scene where the Millenium Falcon banks through the wreckage of a Star Destroyer, that put George Lucas to shame. Since Keyes has also written Star Wars novels, it's a perfect match. I want to see Kennedy draw the steampunk-esque airships, malevolent spirits and alchemical workshops of Unreason, and watercolor-drench that world in torchlight and gunpowder flame.

Second, Naomi Novik's Temeraire. This five-book series was about fighting dragon riders, but it was no Eragon. Temeraire is a rare Chinese dragon, a foundling who bonds with the captain of an English ship in the Napoleanic Wars. By virtue of the bond, the captain, Will Lawrence, is bound for a life in the Aerial Corps, fighting France from dragonback.

Will Lawrence gets a lot more than he expected, though -- and that's considering he expected to lose family and property forever. Temeraire pursues civil rights for dragons, whom the English treat as somewhere between foot-soldiers and pack animals. There's intrigue from the Chinese court and underhanded dealings by their own government.

Again, Novik is a capable writer, and could easily handle the scripting chores. For the art, I choose Ryan Ottley, with some watercolor help from whomever he chooses. Ottley draws some amazing monsters in Invincible every month, and he would be more than suited to hosts of dragons. His superheroes knock each other through massive office buildings and his evil aliens wreck whole other worlds, so with the right amount of photo references, he could easily recreate ships and pagodas and harems.

And then there's Harry Potter.

I know Rowling doesn't need the money. And there are already movies.

But there's nothing wrong with a new look. I'm not crazy about the drab Hogwarts we saw in the first two movies, though Alfonso Cuarón's dizzying visuals in the third finally recreated the magic for me.

And it doesn't have to be an adaptation, either. According to Rowling, Harry, Ron and Hermione went on fighting evil wizards all around the world for years before the epilogue to Deathly Hallows. Why not tell those stories? For the art, bring on Nathan Hale, illustrator of the amazing Rapunzel's Revenge. In Revenge, Hale drew a fantasy Old West, complete with an evil witch, a princess in a tower, and a ravenous beanstalk, all in a quirky fun style reminiscent of Mary Grandpre, cover artist for the US Potter books. He can do Quidditch, hippogriffs, house-elves and Hogwarts.

As for the script, who else but Peter David would be up to such a task? He's funny, he's already proven he can adapt in Dark Tower, and he Really Gets the characters he writes, even in franchise work.

Finally, there's Lord of the Rings. More than any other book out there, this is crying out for a graphic novel adaptation. And it will probably never happen. Christopher Tolkien and the Tolkien estate didn't like Peter Jackson's movies, and they've still got, as far as I know, all print rights.

But Tolkien estate, I have four words for you: Scouring of the Shire.

You know you want to see it.

Plus other scenes. Jackson created brilliant visuals, but he made a lot of missteps purely because of film limitations. He rushed Galadriel's temptation and turned her into Psycho Zombie Dark Queen, because there just wasn't time to explain that the Elf Queen had been in Middle-Earth since the First Age and didn't want to give up her little corner of the world. He couldn't take the time to add in Dol Amroth, so the Dead became the Unstoppable Green Zombie Army and thus were robbed a lot of the creepiness Tolkien imbued in the Paths of the Dead passages.

And Frodo told Sam to go home. What are they, third-graders? "Go home and take your stupid elf-cake with you! I didn't want to play with you anyway, Sam! Gollum is my new best friend."

In a comic adaptation, done in fifteen or so installments, we'd get time to explore both the exciting and the subtle about Tolkien's world, making more room for the narrative to breathe.

(Me talking about Peter Jackson is kind of like an expectant couple talking about their own parents. I'll recognize what he did right, but I'll spend just as much time talking about what he did wrong as if I would be able to avoid it in the same situation.)

If any artist is up to one-upping Jackson's visuals, it's the legendary P. Craig Russell. Russell's work in the The Ring of the Nibelung showed that he could create poetry out of the flow of his art, and recreate a lost world of heroes and myth. Ring of the Nibelung inspired the pride and wickedness associated with Tolkien's own ring, but Russell could now add Tolkien's beautiful musing on faith and loyalty that he embodied in Frodo and Sam and Gollum. The amazing visuals Russell brought to his work on Neil Gaiman's Sandman showed that he can create other worlds full of dizzying detail as well.

Russell made a pretty straight adaptation with Nibelung, but if he needs help with dialogue, why not use Michael Avon Oeming? Oeming wrote the very best of the many, many Thor Ragnarok stories and is an amazing artist in his own right.

If anything like these adaptations should come to pass, I will be at the comic shop squealing. Until then, I shall dream.

Read more by Spencer Ellsworth


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