Category Archives: graphic novel

The Stand Omnibus Review (Marvel, 2012)

Having recently shelled out on The Invisibles, and soon to receive the exhaustive (and most likely exhausting)  Marvel ‘Zomnibus’, plus the eagerly awaited Criminal Deluxe Edition Volume 2, I am experiencing a relative flood of Omnibus titles to stockpile as the autumn nights draw in. As I purchase a lot of my books via Amazon, they are always happy to shove more products in my face that I will most likely ignore, but sometimes they throw me something I was blissfully unaware of / was woefully uninformed of / did not see coming and I am more than presently surprised, so much so that I immediately reward them with more of my cash as I purchase said product.

What I am trying to say is, is that they recommended that I may just like The Stand Omnibus from Marvel. Well, how very perceptive for a website bot. I immediately ordered. It arrived within the week, and has, without doubt, been the best Omnibus purchase I have made. There are so many reasons why, and this review is going to attempt to share some of the love emanating from me, fresh from finishing the main book (the one with all the comic books in chronological order in glorious colour with great binding) in this 2 volume slipcase set. The second book is the equivalent of the second DVD full of ‘extras’ in a 2 DVD film presentation. That book is not being reviewed here.

The Stand is one of Stephen Kings better known, and according to fan polls, best loved books. It is also one of his longest, and one of his most divisive (one reviewer who went by the name of Spider Robinson actively campaigned to urge people not to read the book, such was his loathing of it – read it here). I read it in 1983, when it was still in its original 1978 version. There has since been 2 revisions of the book (2 revisions I was completely unaware of), and its the final one, the ‘complete & unabridged’ version, released in 1990, that is the basis for Marvel Comics comic adaptation. You find that out in a very nice way, with a scene that references the Warren Beatty / Madonna movie ‘Dick Tracy’, which was one of the Summer Blockbusters of that year. It is also one of the few pop culture references to frame the story. It is telling, as I think this excellent adaptation invests the reader with enough intelligence that they do not need to hit them over the head with specific cultural references, to give the story a relative position to the readers experiences. This version of The Stand is the age old tale of Good versus Evil, God and The Devil, the dark versus the light. It tells that story very well, and is probably the finest adaptation of a literary source in comic form.

The comic adaptation was divided up into 6 runs, covering nearly 4 years, starting with The Stand: Captain Trips in the autumn of 2008, followed by American Nightmares, Soul Survivors, Hardcases, No Man’s Land and concluding with The Night Has Come, which finished its run earlier this year (in February 2012). That was a massive commitment from Marvel comics, to keep with a project to the end regardless of sales on single issues of the title. But more importantly, this was a huge achievement from the Creative team, who, in an industry where those teams are disbanded on a regular basis, managed to keep its people from the first to last. The most obvious benefit to the reader is the consistency of art style. The greatest benefit to the readers of this omnibus is the talent of the Creative team. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, as writer, manages something of a minor miracle in his filtering of this massive Post Apocalypse saga, all 1152 pages of it, into a balanced, absorbing retelling of Kings novel. As important, as absolutely crucial, is the work of Mike Perkins, whose naturalistic, clean art captures perfectly a world ravaged, and the full spectrum of human emotions and interactions. Alongside him, the colours of Laura Martin are pitched just right, slightly muted, but bursting into life when required to capture the intensity of the story at key points.

The story is, in essence, a tale of Good versus Evil, a story of how man destroys man, but also of sacrifice, salvation & hope. It’s Religious overtones are blatant, but it is also a retelling of how humans ultimately fuck everything up, given enough time and resources, only to begin again with renewed purpose on doing it right second (third, fourth, fifth etc) time around. There is also more than a nod to Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings books in this story, and the riffs on that tale are completely blatant and seem more an act of fan service on the part of King than any sort of wholesale lifting from the source material.

This adaptation is a lesson in how to use the source material work in comic form. As a reader the feeling of the plot moving at a steady pace is palpable, from the initial outbreak of the superflu nicknamed ‘Captain Trips’, to the pandemic, to the aftermath, to the marshalling of the forces of Good against Evil. The main characters have enough depth and personality to make you care enough about their fate, from the brooding, tragic Nick Andros, the capable everyman Stu Redman, the man-child Tom Cullen. None of this would be possible without the economy and precision of Aguirre-Sacasa’s text and the humanity that Perkins pours into the panels, depicting these characters. The portrayal of Randall Flag (aka The Walking Dude, aka THE DEVIL HISSELF) is all easy courtesies and charm with the swagger of a Rock Idol, until he gets mad, and then Perkins gives Flagg enough of The Devil and Animal Predator Nightmare Fuel (like the rows of Shark Teeth he flashes before lunging for the Kill) to make him a worthy unfiltered image of Evil.

The action set pieces work really well, as sparing as they are throughout this massive book, and are handled with a sure touch – you feel the chaos, the tension, you see the chaos, the tension, the effects of violence, the destruction that can be wreacked upon a body. It’s cinematic and I mean that in a good way – Perkins has great vision and frames each panel with care and attention. The level of detail and consistency in his work is astonishing.

So is it worth your time and money? For those with any interest in Stephen King, The Stand or Post Apocalypse fiction, then it’s a no-brainer. You must treat yourself to this fantastic package. Marvel invest in quality when they put together an Omnibus. You may around 50 to a 100 sterling, but what you get is good paper, fantastic reproduction of the comics, superb binding, and a comfortable sturdiness when you hold the book in your hands. For book case lovers, I can tell you that the Omnibus’ from Marvel catch the eye with their fat spines and vibrant lettering.

I read the whole thing in 3 sittings, probably totalling around 6 hours of solid reading. There is more to it than reading the text and skimming the art – you stop and take each panel in, there is no way you hurry thriugh this. It is the best adaptation of a book I have read in comic form. The fact its source is one of my favourite books obviously helps its case, but that should not diminish from what I am trying to express; for one of the more gripping, moving, thriling comic book experiences of modern times, this has few equals. Marvel’s decision to make the adaptation, AND then collect it in this premium Omnibus format, reaps dividends for the reader.

To summarise; it is very, very good. Buy it.

Incredible moments in Comics part II – the Death of Captain Marvel (Jim Starlin 1982)

There are few times that comic books / graphic novels have the power to move me to tears, but in the last week I have been greatly affected by 2 pieces of work from the 1980s. The second title I want to share with you closes the circle that began with me discussing the Miracleman Birth. The second title is the acclaimed ‘The Death of Captain Marvel’, by Jim Starlin (who writes and illustrates). This is famous for being regarded as the first Graphic Novel, and is not daunted by being the first in the genre. It sets a standard that only the very best titles have surpassed (ie those that are rapidly becoming ‘canon’ such as ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ and ‘Watchmen’). It is important to remember that this title did not start off as a comic book, like ‘Dark Knight’ or ‘Watchmen’. The importance of this storyline meant that a book format was to do the subject matter justice.

The story concerns the Death of Captain Marvel, a well known figure in the Marvel Universe, as he struggles with an adversary, the terrible and terminal ‘blackend’, that cannot be defeated like the generic ‘bad guy’ of traditional comic tales.

As the disease begins to take hold of this noble Kree Warrior, there is reflection on his life as those from his past, friend and foe alike, come to pay their respects and pay tribute. This is a meditation on love and loss, on the merits of a life lived as a noble and good person, on dealing with regret and the vagaries of chance, the lottery of life and the precious resource of time.

As the story solemnly and inexorably reaches the finale there is a change of tone and the book evolves and transforms into the most triumphant vindication of spirit and love for life that I find the story transcends its superhero basis and becomes something unique and moving. It leaves you both drained and exhilarated. It leaves you glad you spent the time reading this dignified and moving piece of fiction.

Again, like the Birth of Miraclemans Daughter (see here) I shed tears, and felt incredibly moved by the book.

If you can bear the basic graphical style of Jim Starlin and occasionally stilted action scenes, this is really worth sticking with, and one Marvel title that has a soul and an all embracing understanding of the vitality of life and the raging against the dying of the light.

For more about Captain Marvel, see here and here

For more about Jim Starlin, who also helmed the infamous Batman storyline ‘Death in the Family’, see here

For more about The Death of Captain Marvel, see here