Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bryant Has Issues #2

Welcome back for another installment of my semi-regular column wherein I flap my metaphorical gums for a bit about the comic books I read this week.

We'll start with the one that is of the most obvious interest to King fans.

For those of you who weren't aware, Road Rage is a four-issue mini adapting two short stories: "Throttle" by Stephen King and Joe Hill; and "Duel" by Richard Matheson.

"Throttle" was originally published in 2009 in He Is Legend, a short-story collection which paid tribute to Matheson by serving up new stories (by people like King/Hill, Ramsey Campbell, Whitley Strieber, F. Paul Wilson, Mick Garris, etc.) that were homages to classic Matheson stories.  "Throttle" was the Kings' homage to "Duel," which is probably most famous for having served as the source material for Steven Spielberg's breakthrough 1971 television movie.  (King and Hill apparently used to watch that movie on laserdisc -- ! -- together frequently when Joe was younger.  I love that movie, too; it's a classic.)

"Throttle" and "Duel" were later put out in audio format under the title Road Rage, a titling strategy that IDW comics carried over to its adaptations.  The comic book version of Road Rage adapts "Throttle" in issues one and two, and "Duel" in issues three and four. That makes Road Rage #2 the conclusion of the comic book version of "Throttle."

Still with me?


Sadly, I have to report that I am not overly impressed by the first two issues.  I thought "Throttle" (the original short story, that is) was excellent: King and Hill meshed their prose styles quite well, and also came up with some compelling characters, who leap off the page quite vividly considering how little time we get to spend with them.  (Prequel novel, anyone?)

A lot of that didn't survive the translation from prose to comic.  With some of the Stephen King-adapted comics that have come out in the last few years, I've ended up feeling that the adaptations felt rushed: "The Gunslinger Born" (which was an adaptation of parts of the novel Wizard and Glass) was probably the worst offender in that regard, but The Stand suffered from the same problem off and on.

Exceptions: Marvel's outstanding adaptation of N., and the most recent comics based on The Gunslinger.  In both of those cases, the comics have benefited greatly from the story being given room to breathe.  The recent Dark Tower comics have adapted "The Way Station" (from The Gunslinger): that story has been given five issues, as opposed to the seven that were devoted to the entire tale of Roland and friends in Mejis.  In prose terms, that's five comics adapting roughly fifty pages for "The Way Station," whereas "The Gunslinger Born" consisted of seven comics adapting well over four hundred pages.  You do the math on that one, and you'll probably not be surprised that "The Way Station" feels like a more satisfactory adaptation of King's work than does "The Gunslinger Born."  (Provided you don't consider Jae Lee's superior artwork in "The Gunslinger Born.")

"Throttle" isn't serviced quite as poorly story-wise as Wizard and Glass was in "The Gunslinger Born," but it definitely feels rushed.  In prose, it was about fifty pages, or roughly equivalent to the length of "N."  However, "N." got four issues as a comic, whereas "Throttle" got a mere two.

I'm not sure I understand the rationale behind that.  But then, I don't understand what sort of economic considerations go into the planning and production of comic books, so perhaps doubling the length would have been prohibitive for IDW in this instance.  I don't know about that; what I know is that I felt the lack, and ultimately, it doesn't matter what's to blame for it: economics, poor planning, or whatever else might have been at work, "Throttle" simply doesn't work as well as a comic book as it does in prose.

That's not to say that it doesn't work at all.  Even in diminished form, it's a moderately effective tale.  I'm tempted to recommend it to King fans and/or Hill fans who haven't had an opportunity to read the short story, but to be honest, I can't: the two issues together'll run you about $8, and for that, you can probably locate a used copy of He Is Legend and go straight to the source.

With that in mind, I'm forced to conclude that -- at least in terms of the first two issues -- Road Rage is for King/Hill completists only.  Or, possibly, for anyone who enjoys Nelson Daniel's art.  I don't think his work here is as inspired as what he did on The Cape, but it's solid, and if you loved what he did there, you'll probably at least like what he does here.

Everyone else: you're advised to save your money for something better.  Such as:

I flat-out loved the first issue of Saga (which, charmingly, is called "Chapter One" instead of #1).  Not only is it (at least) twice as good as Road Rage #2, it's twice the page-count (with no ads!), AND it costs a buck less.  Now THAT, my friends, is what I call economic incentive.

Saga has a mild Stephen King connection, in that it is written by Brian K. Vaughan, who is the guy Showtime hired to develop Under the Dome as a miniseries.  There has been no news on that project of late, but I tend to hope that that simply means Vaughan is taking his time and figuring out the best way to turn that whopper of a novel into ten or twelve episodes of pay-cable television.  Vaughan is no teevee virgin: he worked on Lost for a couple of seasons, so there's that.

He's possibly better-known, however, for his creator-owned comics properties, which include Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina.  I've read neither of those, but have heard great things about both, and based on issue #1 -- whoops, "Chapter One" -- of Saga, I'm thinking I may need to start thinking about reading 'em both.

Saga is the story of ...well, I probably shouldn't speculate too much about that, because who knows where it will go from this point.  Instead, let me just tell you a bit about the setup for Chapter One: it begins in a warehouse on a planet somewhere, with a woman who has green hair and green fairy wings giving birth to a baby while her husband -- a magician with rams' horns growing out of his skull -- looks on nervously.  As it turns out, they are former enemy soldiers from two warring factions, both of which have sent operatives to locate the star-crossed (and AWOL) lovers and put them in custody.  Both of these groups of operatives converge on their location at roughly the same time.  Shit hits fans, but in the ensuing chaos, our heroes are able to make their escape, newborn daughter well in hand.  Elsewhere in the galaxy, additional operatives -- these a bit less on the up-and-up -- are enlisted to hunt the lovers down.  These characters will presumably play crucial roles in the series as it develops.

That may sound like a fairly standard setup.

There are things you don't know.

This issue has charms of the following sort: umbilical chewing; breast feeding; turncoat talking monkeys; antlered magicians; semi-decapitations; full disembowelings; flying horses; robots with televisions for heads (who also have fully functional -- and anatomically correct -- human bodies, and, in one case, the impotence to prove it); human-sized alligator (or, possibly, crocodile) butlers; lion-sized Siamese cats that can (Bene Gesserit-style) tell if you're lying; giant fire-breathing monsters that look like those gargoyle-dogs from Ghostbusters if they were twenty feet tall; unicorn women; cigarettes; boobs; dongs; giant warrior turtles; and et cetera.

I mean, shit, dude, that's one issue!

On top of that, the art by Fiona Staples -- of whom I had never heard, but on whom I will be keeping an eye (two when I can spare them) -- is kinda gorgeous.  Don't believe me?  Just check out the cover, which is simple, but also utterly convincing as a piece of character work.

Saga has automatically jumped to near the top of my list of titles I'm looking forward to reading issue-by-issue, exceeded perhaps only by Locke & Key.

Go get you one!

Between last week's Saucer Country and this week's Saga and The Manhattan Projects, I've picked up three new ongoing series this month, which is something I don't do often.  (This is mainly for budgetary reasons: comics get expensive real quick when you start picking up series after series after series!)

In all three cases, I heard about the books, liked the sound of the concepts, and decided to give them a shot.  That worked pretty well with Saucer Country, and extremely well with Saga, but I'm a little undecided regarding The Manhattan Projects after its debut.

Here's the setup: Robert Oppenheimer is brought onto the Manhattan Project in 1942, only to discover that it is a (legitimate) front for far-more-advanced super-secret projects, which appear to synthesize science and magic.  During his introductory tour, the facility is attacked by kamikaze Japanese samurai robots.  Mixed in with all of this, we learn a bit about Oppenheimer's (presumably fictional) past, and see a few tantalizing peeks into what's going on elsewhere in the Projects.

Frankly, I found the issue to be a bit loud and tiresome.  It reminded me a bit of a considerably less-good version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and while I'm aware that that's an unfair comparison, it's also one I couldn't help but make.  It is by no means a bad issue, though: there's enough intrigue and potential here that I will give it three or four more issues.  If it hasn't involved me a bit more by then, I may jump ship, but for now, I'm curious enough to see what comes next that I'll fork over $3.50 a month for it.

Closing out the week, we have another terrific issue of Batman by Scott "American Vampire" Snyder.

After the insane action that took place in #5-6, it's understandable that #7 proves to be a bit of a respite.  That's not to say that nothing happens; far from it.  No, plenty happens here, though most of it comes in the form of Bruce talking to Dick "Nightwing" Grayson and the Court of Owls talking to ... well, to persons who shall be undisclosed in this blog post.  There's groovy science stuff in the Batcave, and there's the customary terrific art by Greg Capullo (especially on the first and last pages), and there's a hella-fine cliffhanger that suggests that the full-bore action will probably be back in #8.

I've got one complaint: Batman meets a character in a van at one point, and I don't entirely know what happens during this scene.  Is she mistaking Bruce for someone she knows (but whom we, the audience, does not know)?  Or is this a character from the extended Batverse the audience should know (but whom I am unfamiliar with personally due to my lack of Bat-knowledge)?  I think it's the former, but I'm not entirely sure.  This is a minor complaint, but I felt the urge to say something -- ANYTHING -- negative about Snyder, because doing so is a fucking novelty.

Here, by the way, is the first page of this issue, which ought to give you a good idea of the quality of work Capullo is doing (with big assists from inker Jonathan Glapion):

Batman #7, page 1 -- pencils by Greg Capullo, inks by Jonathan Glapion

Love that next-to-last panel.  And the next page is even better, but you'll have to buy the comic to see that!

That's all the funny-books for this week!  See ya next time...


  1. I'll admit I haven't read much of the Dark Tower comics, and was unimpressed with Little Sisters of Eluria. The Journey Begins, while obvious fan-fiction was alright with me, and it might have softened a passage in the revised Gunslinger that might give new fans the wrong impression of Roland regarding Hax.

    I haven't read the Throttle comics yet, and don't know if I intend to. However I will say it;s no surprise that King says Matheson is the greatest influence on his work. Matheson pioneered the idea of setting horror amidst the everyday working class ethos, that's right, King didn't invent it, Matheson did, with maybe some help from Bradbury and Serling.

    As for the film Duel, I always had this funny idea for the ending. I think just before the end the truck brays it's horn. I don't know if I'm remembing correctly or if that's just in my head, either ay it's a good jumping off point.

    What I envisioned is Dennis Weaver looks over at the sound of the trucks horn, go to a close up of Weaver's haggard face, looking confused. The rest of the scene plays out pretty much the way it does at the end of Duel, with one difference.

    During the credit sequence, we pan over the strewn wreckage of metal and steel car parts till we come to the big reveal a get the greatest shock of all. WEAVER WAS THE DRIVER OF THE TRUCK ALL ALONG!!!!!

    Cut to black, leaving the audience to scratch it's head and wonder what that was about? Was it like all in his head, is a Jekyll and Hyde parable or something.

    Well, there's two cents worth.


  2. Well, what I'll say about that is that if "Duel" had ended that way, we might not have the Spielberg we know today ... because it might have ended his career!

    I'm abysmally weak in terms of reading Matheson. The only thing of his I've ever read is "I Am Legend," which I loved. One of these days, I'm going to dive into his works pretty heavily. So many books, so little time...

    As for the "Throttle" comics, I honestly can't recommend them. It's really nothing more than a watered-down version of the story, and the story was mainly notable for the quality of the writing itself ... most of which gets lost in the translation.

    Thanks for reading, Chris! I didn't know if anyone would care about these comic-book columns or not, so it's good to know there's SOMEBODY out there checking it out!