Review: Castle: Richard Castle's Deadly Storm graphic novel (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at Hell Yeah '80s Marvel!]

One of my favorite shows, Castle, is returning to the airwaves in a few weeks, so I thought it would be apt to review one of its tie-in graphic novels. Comic book tie-ins to prime-time shows are increasingly popular, with Heroes being one of the largest efforts (and one of the rare cases where the comics often ended up being better than the show). Since Castle revolves around a writer, it was a natural fit to turn some of Richard Castle’s books into comics. In an unusual move, the comics, such as Castle: Richard Castle’s Deadly Storm, actually “adapt” the novels Castle wrote before he met Kate Beckett at the start of the series, when he was still writing the character “Derrick Storm."

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the “Nikki Heat” books he’s currently writing in the series are being turned into real-world mystery novels. Both Richard Castle’s Deadly Storm and those novels, such as Heat Wave, do an excellent job of representing themselves as artifacts from the television series. Only a few Castle television series and ABC network logos spoil the effect; when the graphic novel appeared as a prop on the series, they were replaced seamlessly with Marvel branding. A foreword by Castle credits writers Brian Michael Bendis and Kelly Sue DeConnick as the “adapters." The prose novels actually go further; the real-world ghost writer not only isn’t credited, but no one knows who he or she is!

The other reason why the Derrick Storm novels are adapted as comics is because they are more action oriented. Because the “Nikki Heat” books are based on a detective’s adventures, they make better mystery novels. Also, because the characters in those books are based on the actors on Castle, it would be distracting to essentially read an episode of the show while watching the wrong people act it out. Storm is drawn to look like Nathan Fillion, while female lead Clara Strike, who in the show is based on CIA agent Sophia Turner, looks like actress Jennifer Beals, who portrayed Turner. I’m not sure if the latter is a happy accident or if Beals had already been cast in the role while the graphic novel was being drawn.

Derrick Storm is a private investigator turned inadvertent CIA operative, aided by his handler Strike. It sounds hokey, but that’s actually the point. Unlike many “quirky civilian and straight cop” shows which present the oddball as a genius in their field, Castle is repeatedly referred to as writing pulp novels and “beach reads." It’s a distinction highlighted on the series when Castle plays poker with real-world mystery writers like Stephen Cannell and James Patterson, who often spoof their own writing techniques in their discussions with him. The tone, which tends to bounce between jokey and overly-serious, reminds me a lot of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt novels, which my father was an avid reader of and which I read a lot of back in middle and high school.

Storm gets sucked into the world of the CIA when his private eye work investigating a cheating husband takes a strange turn. He ends up pulled into a plot involving rogue agents, stolen gold, and Central America. Clara keeps sneaking around in various disguises, while Storm’s father provides wisdom and comic relief. That Storm has a father as a character and a dead mother is a meaningful reversal from the show, where Castle never met his father but his mother is an ever-present live-in character. It also has a reveal predicated around Sophia Turner’s appearances in season 4 and events in season 5. For a dramedy series about a writer, Castle has a fairly strong sense of continuity, which extends to its tie-ins.

This is a rare book where the best part isn’t the story itself, but the extras, which help turn the book into a true prop from the show. Aside from the foreword, there’s an “about the author” page in which Castle regales us with the books he wrote as a child. A script-to-page section shows how Bendis and DeConnick’s words were interpreted by Lan Medina ... and how they were supposedly adapted from the novel. Medina is a good artist, but the breakdowns show that the inks could have benefitted from a lighter hand. Chris Eliopoulos uses a blocky font to denote that the “narrator” is pulling lines right from the adapted material. I swear, I don’t seek out books that are done by Eliopoulos; he just keeps showing up in a lot of the really good Marvel works in the last few years.

The absolute best extra, though, is the catalog of other books by Richard Castle. First is a listing of the rest of the Derrick Storm books, and it seems like in each of them, Clara dies, only to come back in the next book. For some reason, I find this hilarious, especially since she dies at the end of Deadly Storm. I don’t mind spoiling this because it’s not a huge surprise; Strike is on the cover of the next book, Storm Season. I’m also impressed that Bendis and DeConnick were able to come up with a dozen workable pulp novel titles featuring puns on the word “storm”; I probably would’ve given up after eight. From there are the rest of Castle’s novels, including the old ones he wrote under a pseudonym and which were name-dropped in the first episode of Castle. All of these feature suitably pulpy mystery cover images, including the first four “Nikki Heat” novels.

While there isn’t a lot here for someone who isn’t a Castle fan, for those who are in on the joke, Richard Castle’s Deadly Storm is a fun tie-in. (If you’re behind on the show, TNT airs re-runs in the afternoons on most weekdays.) Both Marvel and the show’s production team clearly put a lot of work into creating it.
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1 comment:

  1. Actually I don't think Bendis or Deconnick came up with the names. The Castle people no doubt did that.