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1 September 2014

I Am Legend (1991)

It should come as no surprise to learn that I'm in the eye of of a comic-reading hurricane. In the space of mere hours I've posted my thoughts on subjects as diverse as space exploration, Japanese organised crime and vampires. Can it only have been hours since I last talked about vampires? Ha ha. You'll be pleased to learn that I have more vampires to talk about!

For those with an incredibly short attention span (you know who you are!), I'll remind you that I am on a quest to discover that magic Ingredient X that turns a good comic into an excellent comic. I want to know what witchcraft results in a "classic" graphic novel. Are there rules that need to be followed? What might they be? By studying the works of experts in the field I hope to answer these questions and more, gaining insight and perhaps if I'm lucky, nirvana. Or... I might just have fun reading comics and learn nothing! Both are fine. ;-)

Today's post is a return to one of my all time favourite stories: "I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson. Only there's a twist. This version has been turned into a comic by Steve Niles (story adaptation) and Elman Brown (artwork). How can this be, and does it work? Let's find out...

If you are yet to discover "I Am Legend", I'd recommend you check out a review I did four years ago. Wow! Can it really have been four years? It seems that it can :-(

In a nutshell, we are brought crashing and burning into the world of Robert Neville... the last man on earth! By some weird fluke, Robert has escaped a catastrophe that has seen the death of Mankind. We journey with him in the aftermath as he struggles to make sense of and survive in a world now populated by vampires. This is THE post-apocalyptic story. It has spawned a fistful of films with a multitude of sometimes very different interpretations. Everybody's had their take on it, toying with the possibilities, imagining and reimagining the story. I couldn't help but be suspicious that I was going to get a rehash of one of them. And if so, which one?

First, let's get one thing cleared up. I for one was wondered whether the story would be abridged in any way and as far as I can tell it hasn't. This is great news indeed and cutting to the chase, I think it's what ultimately rescues this version. Oh no, that didn't sound good did it! Don't shoot me just yet!

The artwork is hand-drawn black and white in a scratchy, realistic nature. It's well executed and in fitting with the mood of the narrative. For general feel and style, I think I was most reminded of the Vincent Price film adaptation "Last Man on Earth". I liked the portrayal of Robert Neville and his transformation from his clean-shaven self to the wild man of the forest. What we have in this read is more Kris Kristofferson than Vincent Price and I'm pleased to report that it works!

I would have loved to have seen a lot more variation in the composition of the drawings. This is a long story and there were definitely times where the artwork was getting left behind by the prose. It needed a bit more pep and I reckon it wouldn't have taken too much effort to add it. I felt at times that the framing was uninspired and I really, really wanted to be dragged through the emotional wringer with some creative distorted perspectives.

In short, I wanted more drama! I reckon that a few choice pages could have made a huge difference to this telling. I think that Elman Brown definitely has the skills to pull it off, but maybe he would have benefitted from a little more vision? It's a hard one to call. Wasn't he always onto a loser taking such a well-known and well-loved story? I feel like such a cad, but hey, I'm on a quest here in search of the truth! Crusaders never mince words! Fact!

What I will say is that this is very much a book of two halves and the second half is by far the better... so stick with it vampire hunters!

Hold on a second, I've almost forgotten to mention the vampires!

The portrayal of the vampires is very "Last Man on Earth". You might remember me joking about these in the past claiming that they're the least scary vampires I've ever encountered. Ha ha. Bloody hell, I remember almost being shot for making that comment and I've only gone and said it again! Ha ha! Catch me if you can! I can't help but wonder what this book would have looked like if Ben Templesmith had got his mitts on it? I guess we'll never know.

So did I love the story. You know that I did. Yes, I've been critical, but I came into this with a lot of baggage. Is this a classic comic? No, this won't topple the original book. Had it been the first time I'd ever read the story, then perhaps I'd have a different view, but it isn't and I haven't. Life's tough.

Time for a score. On the emotional Triple-B I'm going to bite my lip 7 times while I read the chapter about the dog. Damn you Richard, you get me every bloody time!


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