Pop Culture Gadabout
Thursday, March 12, 2009
      ( 3/12/2009 05:50:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"A GREAT CRIME AGAINST SOME UNKNOWN GOD" Unlike the recently revamped Graphic Classics devoted to the works of Ambrose Bierce, Tom Pomplun's newest anthology of modern "Classics Illustrated" comics skips the short stuff in favor of four longish adaptations. Featuring graphic versions of Wilde's only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, "The Canterville Ghost," "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime" and the play Salome, the sixteenth volume in this series does a bang-up job capturing the Victorian author's distinct voice. In this, it is perhaps one of the most successful entries in Graphic Classics series to date.

The book opens with its cover story, Alex Burrows and Lisa K. Weber's version of Dorian Gray. The densest of the four works adapted, it's a tale that's already sparked more than comic book adaptation (including one produced by Marvel Comics). Burrows and Weber's take doesn't stint on the original work's upper class-based decadence -- the artist captures the title character's sleepy-eyed beauty convincingly, while Burrow's script has just enough loaded innuendo to make the book's gay subtext sufficiently clear-cut. (Wilde himself famously tamped down the homoerotic aspects of his story between first and second editions of its publication.) If the comic version doesn't fully convey the original's moody gothic elements, it smartly nails Wilde's trenchant critiques of the aesthete's elevation of artistry over humanity.

Even more successful are the adaptations of "Ghost" and "Crime." The former, done by Antonello Caputo and Nick Miller is the most overly funnybookish -- artist Miller even draws two twin boys to resemble the Katzenjammer Kids -- while the latter utilizes heavy-handed brush strokes (courtesy of Stan Shaw) to emphasize the source's darker comedy. "Ghost," which describes the clash between an old-fashioned British haunt and a very "republican" American family, seems particularly current, though the unpunished antihero Lord Savile demonstrates just how ahead of his time Wilde could be.

The book concludes with editor Pomplun and Molly Kiely's adaptation of the Biblical tragedy "Salome." Pomplun relies heavily on the play's original dialog, but in this case the decision has mixed results as Wilde's attempt at dramatizing the events leading up to the beheading of John the Baptist has more than its share of wooden lines. Kiely's graphics recall Beardsley (who famously illustrated the play on its English publication) in her use of blacks and whites, though they're by no means as explicit as the Beardsley's original art nouveau illos. The final pages, where the villainous Salome holds and kisses the severed head of the martyr, are agreeably horrific, if not as memorable as Beardsley's famous illustration of the dancer holding John's head on a blood-drenched table. I can't help wondering whether Wilde the Aesthete would've sniffed that the artist's panel-to-panel depiction of character was a trace too loose, though.

Still, the adaptation remains true to Wilde's tone and outlook as do the other three pieces in this solid collection. Next announced title in the series is a genre-based collection of Science-Fiction Classics set for June release. Just the thing to read between volumes of the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series.


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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