Comics Set to Leap Off the Page

Category: 300 News | Posted by: DaisyMay
Article Date: February 24, 2007 | Publication: Contra Costa Times | Author: Randy Myers
Publication/Article Link:http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/16770813.htm

Although Marvel's "Ghost Rider" popped a $44.5 million wheelie last weekend in theaters, it's actually the month of March when the comics-and-movie scene really revs up its money-making engines in the Bay Area.

March starts out in killer fashion with the 21st annual WonderCon billed boldly and justly as the largest pop culture convention in Northern California. Every fan boy and girl worth his or her "Star Wars" collection will descend on San Francisco's Moscone Center on March 2, where they'll meet their favorite artists and get hyped about upcoming movies, comics and games. WonderCon runs through March 4. Go to www.comic-con.org to score tickets and check out the lineup.

A few lucky WonderConites will get a chance to catch an early showing of "300," based on the superior Frank Miller graphic novel. From the trailers alone, "300" looks like it will be a feast for the eyes, much in the same dazzling vein as Miller's "Sin City" movie. It opens in area theaters March 9.

As it did last year, when the great movie "V for Vendetta" opened on the heels of WonderCon, this year's convention precedes the release of the year's first major graphic-novel-to-film flick, the aforementioned "300." Mere happenstance? A shrewd marketing plan is more like it.

Other comics leaping from page to screen from now to summer: "Spider-Man 3" (expect a big presence and perhaps a couple of surprise guests at WonderCon) on May 4; Neil Gaiman's "Stardust" with Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro in August; and "The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" on July 4.

Other cinematic nuggets to lure fans to the multiplex are the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Transformers," among others. Given all that lights, camera and comics action, this month I'll succumb to the hype and review a few graphic novels with a Hollywood connection. Hits and misses in other releases follow that.

"The Fountain: A Graphic Novel," written by Darren Aronofsky and illustrated by Kent Williams (Vertigo, $19.99, 166 pages).

Which came first: the graphic novel or the movie? In Aronofsky's case, the graphic novel was the result of a film studio almost yanking the plug on his movie, an esoteric love odyssey that trips through time like it's on LSD. So, the acclaimed "Requiem for a Dream" director hooked up with artist Williams and translated his screenplay into graphic-novel format, just in case it never saw a flicker onscreen.

The movie was a head-scratcher and got resoundingly panned. While the themes explored in "The Fountain" the graphic novel obviously come from the heart and soul, the three-time-period structure prevents us from making a love connection with the two time-traveling sweethearts. Williams' art saves the story from itself, generating passion whenever the shuffling leaves us feeling cold. G.D. Grade: B-.

"300," written and illustrated by Frank Miller, colors by Lynn Varley (Dark Horse, $30 hardbound, 82 pages).

"Sin City's" daddy produced this eye-popping epic about 300 Spartan warriors facing formidable, bloodthirsty foes and impossible odds. Grandiose in its complex storytelling and illustrations, it is one of the most accomplished graphic novels ever to be published. "300" not only evokes another time and place, it is an all-out sensory overload, one that makes you feel like you're on a battlefield. Genius. G.D. Grade: A.


"Stardust," written by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Charles Vess (Vertigo, $19.99, 212 pages).

Something wicked yet romantic this way comes in the revered Gaiman's ("The Sandman" and numerous prose novels) elegant stroll through the land of fairies. In classic storytelling style reminiscent of the dark Brothers Grimm, he creates a seductive alternate world teeming with delectable darlings and deadly delights. A besotted young man ventures into the land of fairies to retrieve a star for his beloved. His journey leads to encounters with a wicked witch, a star in lithe human form and other otherworldly beings.

"Stardust" is billed as a graphic novel, but it's best described as a fantasy novel with illustrations. No matter how you categorize it, "Stardust" deserves a lofty spot next to Grimm and Rowling. G.D. Grade: A.

"Stagger Lee," written by Derek McCulloch and illustrated by Shepherd Hendrix (Image Comics, $17.99, 231 pages).

Oakland writer McCulloch shoots for high ambitions, laying out not only his take on an iconic saloon shooting but also showcasing some of the more than 30 different songs about that legendary fight between two black men. In his take, McCulloch exposes the corruption of the late 1890s and illustrates how blacks were treated and the emotional price they suffered trying to get ahead. Where "Stagger" stumbles is in when it jarringly gyrates from past to present; more smooth transitions are needed. Overall, though, this is a first-rate, smart work with distinctive, bronze-tinged illustrations. Note: McCulloch and Hendrix will be appearing at WonderCon. G.D. Grade: B+.

"HWY 115," written and illustrated by Matthias Lehmann (Fantagraphics, $19.95, 240 pages).

The search for a serial killer in France sets us off on a surreal and disturbing road (and head) trip lined with existential plot holes of the undisciplined David Lynch variety. Lehmann's scratchboard illustrations heighten the uneasiness; their cross-stitched patterns make you feel cocooned in a straitjacket. Bizarre, seedy and worth rereading for clarity. G.D. Grade: B.

"A Bit Haywire," written by Scott Zirkel and illustrated by Courtney Huddleston (Viper, $11.95, 112 pages).

Parents lamenting that there's nothing suitable for kids to read need look no further than this bright "Incredibles"-like superhero story. It's hardly original, yet this simple, good-spirited comic adventure featuring a Richie-Rich type discovering he has funky and out-of-control superpowers is not only delightful, but zestfully illustrated and quite funny. Seek it out. G.D. Grade: B.