Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, June 03, 2014
      ( 6/03/2014 10:32:00 PM ) Bill S.  

”DON’T COME BETWEEN THE DRAGON AND HIS WRATH.” Subtitled “An Alaskan Crime Drama,” Eric Hobbs and Noel Yuazon’s Family Ties (NBM/Comics Lit) is a striking graphic novel modernization of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” The idea of dressing up the Bard of Avon in modern garb is nothing new, of course, though it typically isn’t done to “Lear,” which is generally considered one of Shakespeare’s most difficult works.

Scripter Hobbs sets his reworked tale in Anchorage, Alaska, where our king figure is an aging mob boss named Jackie Giovanni. As in the play, the elderly leader has three adult offspring, but where “Lear” made all them women, the graphic novel keeps the villainous Goneril and Regan figures sisters, while making the youngest sibling an earnest young man ironically named Cain. Like his theatrical counterpart Cordelia, Cain is the one decent figure in the batch, though Lear/Jackie doesn’t see this when his youngest refuses to accept inheritance of one-third of the family business.

Before you can say “how sharper than a serpent’s tooth,” Jackie is pushed aside by his scheming daughters, who are both wrangling for control of the mob. As in the play, there’s a subplot involving the duplicitous illegitimate son of one of Jackie’s lieutenants. To those familiar with the original work, I will note at this point that there’s an on-scene blinding in that part of the story. It’s a bloody play, and Hobbs remains true to the tale’s basics – even if he doesn’t provide a sardonic jester to add any side commentary.

Writing in more modern dialog, Hobbs doesn’t provide the bleak verbal poetry of his ultra-dark source. His Jackie lacks Lear’s eloquence and is more plainly portrayed as in the throes of Alzheimer’s. The old man does get his share of poignant scenes, though, most memorably in a sequence where he wanders through the Alaska snow in the throes of his dementia, backed against a tree, lost in a past that may or may not be real. This is no howl but the moans of a man who realizes, if only momentarily, how much he’s missed and gotten wrong.

Artist Noel Tuazon (who previously collaborated with Hobbs on The Broadcast) illustrates this violently melancholy tale with lots of loose ink strokes and gray wash. Occasionally, as a reader, I had to work to differentiate some of the actors in a particular panel, but this approach ultimately serves to mirror the central figure’s confusion. In a world awash with treachery, you need to be at your sharpest to survive. The central tragedy of both Lear and Jackie Giovanni is that neither man is capable of seeing who within their family is truly looking out for him.

A superb graphic novel that should appeal to students of Elizabethan drama and of grandiosely brutal gangster stories.

(First published in Blogcritics.)


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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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