Monday, March 15, 2010

Beyond Prose Fiction: Graphic Novels

I've been using this blog as a forum to post my thoughts on the fiction I've read for a little over two months now, and that will continue to be my primary concern but I thought for all of you who might read this, I'd share the other things I've read recently in little groupings when the opportunity arises. Here are the graphic novels I've read since the beginning of the year:

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young.
Based on the children's novel by L. Frank Baum.

There's no denying that writer Eric Shanower got lucky on this one. Skottie Young's playful, whimsical characters and sweeping Ozian landscapes sell this adaptation on their own. Young's take on Oz manages break away not only the iconic film, but also from the not exactly unrecognizable original illustrations by W. W. Denslow.

It's good that's the case, because Shanower's adaptation is limp. I've said it before: Adaptation is Revision. Shanower doesn't do much beyond lifting Baum's original, repetitive text from the source. While it made sense for Baum to be repetitive when he wrote it in 1900, the elements of the story have become so ingrained in our collective memory at this point that to repeat basic knowledge (The Scarecrow is in search of brains) a dozen times is inexcusable, if for no other reason than wasted panel space. If you haven't ever read the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, It's a fine way to go about it, but returning readers have nothing new to look forward to in the adaptation.

American Born Chinese
by Gene Luen Yang

In an era with novels such as The Joy Luck Club, and Middlesex, there's a very high bar set for cultural identity stories. This isn't to say I'm holding American Born Chinese to quite that standard, but a work-- and a Printz medalist, at that-- audacious enough to approach the subject again best have something to worthwhile to contribute.

I feel the success and notoriety American Born Chinese is due almost entirely to the low expectations of the graphic novel. The three parallel narratives employed work well together, and Cousin Chin-Kee is an inspired literary devise, but Yang's attempt at weaving these three stories together-- or rather, incorporating one of them in particular-- left me annoyed due to tonal inconsistencies and that's damning for a work I had only felt was "pretty good" up until that point.

by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo

Joker is a solid Bat-verse story told from the perspective of no-name thug turned Joker's protege, Jonny Frost. It's a gritty crime story akin, as many who reviewed it at the time of release commented, to the movie universe of The Dark Knight. Lee Bermejo's dirty artwork goes a long way to establishing a tone, and his quasi-realistic take on the Batman villains are, at least, interesting to see.

Frost isn't a very unique protagonist; characters of his ilk are as common his profession but Azzarello does at least make some nice use out of the familiar. Azzarello has a tendency to be subtle to a fault here, but in contrast to the crushing obviousness frequently found in cape-and-cowl dialog it's almost forgivable. The plotting is a bit tenuous but what else can you expect about a story starring the Joker?

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