Monday, June 1, 2009

More Graphic Classics, now in COLOR!

I have dim childhood memories of TV shows announcing with great enthusiasm that they were now "in COLOR!" (The irony is, most TV sets at the time were only black-and-white). The latest superlative volume (number seventeen) from Graphic Classics is also their first one in color, so consider this a similar enthusiastic announcement. Subtitled Science Fiction Classics, it proves to contain exactly that, with the possible exception of a Lord Dunsany tale I don't think really qualifies as SF. But original SF gangstas H.G. Wells and Jules Verne rub shoulders with Stanley G. Weinbaum, Arthur Conan Doyle and odd-man-out E.M. Forster's (Howards End, Maurice, A Room with a View) lone SF story.

Although there's not really a weak spot quality-wise in the whole volume, two stories really stand out. One is Micah Farritor's evocative interpretation of The War of the Worlds. The public perception of the story has always been contemporary, from (Orson) Welles' radio drama to the George Pal 1953 movie and including the recent Spielberg/Cruise version. Farritor manages to show the setting as (H.G.) Wells imagined it, with troops on horseback and artillery cannons facing the Martian death machines and doing surprisingly well.

The other superlative piece is "The Disintegration Machine," one of Arthur Conan Doyle's "Professor Challenger" stories. Challenger has always been lost in the shadow of Doyle's other creation, but he's an equally vivid character: brilliant, larger-than-life, quick to fly into theatrical rages and always up for...well, a challenge. He's the hero of Doyle's dinosaur epic The Lost World (adapted in a prior Arthur Conan Doyle Graphic Classics collection), and "The Disintegration Machine" has always been one of my favorites. In it, Challenger is recruited to test the veracity of Dr. Nemor's titular device, a kind of primitive transporter of obvious value to the more aggressive nations of the world. Robert Langridge's artwork catches the perfect tone, and his glowering take on Professor Challenger is marvelous. Why has no one ever cast Brian Blessed as this character?

Weinbaum's classic "A Martian Odyssey" is given a rollicking treatment by George Sellas. Brad Teare brings a woodcut style to Dunsany's "The Bureau d'Echange de Maux," which only enhances its non-SF feel. And Ellen Lindner illustrates Forster's "The Machine Stops" in a style that emphasizes its family resemblance to Wall-E.

Each Graphic Classics volume I've had the pleasure of reviewing has done an admirable job of putting new graphic flesh onto old narrative bones, reminding us why they were considered classics in the first place. With this volume's addition of color, that effect is only intensified. Any reader of any age can connect with these stories and get a little of the thrill that the original readers experienced.

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