Friday, May 14, 2010

Leaping Iambic Pentameter In a Single Bound

Any guess where the idea of the heroic adventure story had its foundations laid in recognizable form for the first time? Probably poetry wouldn't be your first guess, but -- while mythology introduced numerous elements -- the first true heroic adventure narrative was in the form of epic poems. Every comic you read, every summer blockbuster you see, owes a direct debt to Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. So, in a deft move of cutting out the middle man, All-Action Classics have adapted Homer's Odyssey (by Mucci and Caldwell) with the pulse-pounding adventure intact and combined it with the crackling energy and imagery of a Samurai Jack cartoon. It's all here: Odysseus's battle with the giant cyclops, his breathless course between the vast whirlpool Charybdis and the tentacled monster Scylla, and his clobbering of oafish suitors with their eyes on his land and his wife. What might take you by surprise though, is the underlying characteristics of the tale and how they differ from the values and virtues of today's heroic adventure. Odysseus's quest was nothing more than desperate journey to get home to his family; his greatest battles were against temptation; his greatest strength was his faith in the gods who watched over humans like they were children and often played with them like pawns; and though he was a great veteran of the Trojan War, his greatest weapon was guile. This one proves both a great adventure and a fascinating glimpse into the dogma of a bygone era. And there's no need to stop there. Have a look at All-Action Classics' first adaptation, Bram Stoker's Dracula (by Mucci, Halliar and Caldwell). Same faithful but energetic re-telling, same vibrant, modernized graphic sensibility, but fittingly atmospheric with its Gothic castle, its monstrous count and the desperate hunt through shadowed subterranean passages.

Now, speaking of heroism old and new: there's an awful lot of super-hero comics out there, and plenty do fun, exciting stuff with classic characters and situations. But it sometimes comes to the point where you feel like everything's been done, everything's been tried . . . and then someone comes along with a new twist, a fresh way to look at the tried and true metaphors. Such a book is Forty-Five (by Ewington), which is a crackling original in both its conception and its execution. A journalist who is about to be the father of a baby with the Super-S gene (the gene that gives humans super-powers) and sets out to interview forty-five super-powered people at various stages of their lives. Add to this ingenious hook the work of forty-five very talented artists who each contributed a splash page to go with a character/interview and you've got a whole new way to explore these powerful ideas. Character, narrative, emotion and a beautifully constructed fantasy world emerge from this combination of interview and art, and it reminds you that no matter how many times you may have seen something, there's always room in the collective imagination for something new. Apparently, you can tell a good super-hero story without poetry, as well.

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