Tuesday, November 24, 2009

At the end of last Friday's episode of Smallville, they showed a teaser for the upcoming two-hour episode featuring the Justice Society of America.

I'm excited. I had read that the episode (written by comics writer Geoff Johns) would be featuring Hawkman, Dr Fate, and the Star-Spangled Kid, but from these clips, it looks like we'll be catching at least glimpses of a couple of other characters. And I admit, I squeed like a little girl (or a middle-aged comics fan) when I saw the Alan Scott Green Lantern ring and the gas-masked visage of the Wesley Dodds Sandman.

I've been a fan of Smallville since the beginning, although my affection for it waxes and wanes. I think I was losing interest a little the first half of last season; the Doomsday story was a little too dark and depressing, the show seemed to be having trouble adjusting to the loss of two regular cast members, and I was distracted by a new relationship in my life.

My excitement was reignited with the episode last January (written by Geoff Johns) guest-starring the Legion of Super-Heroes. I have blogged previously about how I loved those characters as a kid, but didn't know what to expect from their Smallville appearance. Would they be the characters I knew and loved, or would they be radically changed (like not even from the future) to make them "cool" and "hip?"

Turns out, while some of the less-cool-for-TV elements were downplayed (they didn't have names like Cosmic Kid or Lightning Lad, to my recollection), they were very much true to their origins. And when I saw them wearing Legion flight rings that looked like they came straight out of the comics, my heart grew three sizes that day. Much the same as seeing the JSA characters in this teaser.

I've lost count of how many times I've had conversations with friends about how cool it would be to see our favorite comics or books turned into movies. I don't actually look forward to that stuff all that much. If I like a particular story or set of characters, it's because I like the stories in whatever medium they're told in. If the stories are about characters I like, then I would like more stories, but not necessarily the same stories retold in a different way. Movies based on books are necessarily going to eliminate things; even a movie or TV show that adapts every scene and every line of dialogue is still going to lose the style of the prose, and still won't match the pictures in my head. Even if you adapt a comic panel-for-panel, like Sin City, what I see on the screen is still not going to be exactly what I imagine happening between the panels.

And adapting comics superheroes to live action? Changes are going to have to be made, just in the costumes alone. For example, when you try to do a Batman costume that looks just like the one in the comics, you get the Adam West version from the 60s.

(I've read some online complaints about the Hawkman picture to which I've linked above. I don't know; I think it looks okay. Smallville has done a good job making their superhero costumes look a little more reasonable on TV, like giving Green Arrow a dark green leather costume and dark glasses instead of a bright green cloth outfit and mask. The thing about Hawkman, though, is he's got big wings. And his mask has a beak. I'm not sure there's a way to make those elements look realistic.)

Having said all that, while I don't particularly look for the things I love to be adapted into other media, I still get excited when it happens. And when it works, like The Dark Knight or the Hellboy movies, it's really cool.

But the JSA and Legion are hardly as well-known as Batman or Spider-Man or the X-Men. So to see them come to life? This really is very close to a dream coming true.

Can't wait for January to come.
We've been traveling a lot this month, first to North Carolina (as mentioned in my wedding planning blog), then a couple of trips to California. So I haven't been able to post as often as I'd like. Once Lura starts work again next week, I'll have more time on my hands needing filling, which means more regular blogging.

So in the time since my last post, I've read a couple of books. The first, Peter & Max, by Bill Willingham is thematically tied to the last book I read, James Owen's The Shadow Dragons, in a couple of ways. For one, it's a prose work by a creator I first discovered through his comic book work. His current big claim to fame is Fables, a series bringing together characters from fables and folklore across various cultures, refugees from their war-torn homelands, now living together in a small neighborhood in New York. Peter & Max is a prose novel, but still part of the Fables series.

Like The Shadow Dragons, Peter & Max draws together a bunch of different folk tales into one cohesive story. The book tells the story of the Piper brothers, Peter (of Pumpkin and Pickled Pepper Eating fame) and Max (the Pied Piper of Hamelin), from childhood to the present day. It's a tale of bitter sibling rivalry taken to the extreme, and Willingham effectively shows how the characters grow and develop from their humble beginnings as part of a family of traveling entertainers. The historical flashbacks alternate with the present day, as we see the resolution to their centuries-old conflict.

I love how Willingham takes the stories we all know and adds real depth and human emotion, fleshing them out. Here, we see how events come together to help foster a psychopath. We see how gentle Peter is forced to adapt to the harsh circumstances with which he is confronted. Despite its origins in a comic book series, this story is perhaps best told as a novel, allowing for a storytelling style that gets right into the characters' heads.

While the comic series deals with the ongoing relationships and political situations within the Fables community, the story of Peter and Max takes place on the sidelines. This helps make this novel completely accessible to new readers. Willingham gives enough background information to understand the setting, but this could easily be someone's first visit to this world.

The writing is clear and precise, focusing more on telling the story than fancy literary tricks. Willingham's voice still comes through clearly, with his characteristic dry wit. According to his blog, he is working on a new novel already, and also has several short stories appearing in various anthologies. That's good news; I like his comics work just fine, but, based on this example, more prose from him will also be something to get excited about.

And while this is notable for being the first prose Fables novel, I don't want to forget the illustrations (and short comics-format epilogue) by regular series inker Steve Leialoha. I've been a fan of his for even longer than I've followed Bill Willingham, and it's nice to see him doing the full art for this book.

I also read the latest Gabriel Hunt novel, Hunt at World's End. I talked a little about the Gabriel Hunt series in a previous entry. Nicholas Kaufman wrote this installment, but I'm not familiar with his work, so I can't pick out his individual style. Like the previous Hunt novels, it's a fast-paced action-adventure story with a supernatural MacGuffin at the heart of it. As always--similar to the Indiana Jones movies--the supernatural element is secondary to the action, so they're not really fantasy novels.

I don't have a lot to add to what I said about the last book. After three books, the Gabriel Hunt formula is becoming pretty apparent: Hunt and a beautiful companion race against a larger-than-life villain to uncover some mysterious and powerful ancient artifact. They're well-written, entertaining diversions, but they're not particularly deep in terms of theme or character, and beyond the surface details, there's not a lot of variety among the stories.

Arguably, the Doc Savage novels that helped inspire this series are pretty formulaic as well. And there's something to be said for knowing what to expect from genre fiction, because sometimes you want the comfort of the familiar.

Since the next Hunt novel isn't due out until next spring, I'm planning on continuing to read them. But if the frequency were to ever increase, I would hope the variety of stories would increase as well.

And now, I'm in the middle of Midwinter by Matthew Sturges. (He's another comics writer turned novelist, and a longtime collaborator with Bill Willingham. No coincidence I'm reading this so soon after Peter & Max.) It's been described as "The Dirty Dozen with Elves," and I'm enjoying it a lot so far. More about that once I've finished.