Review: A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel Vol. 1 hardcover (Bantam/Dynamite Entertainment)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

[Doug Glassman ('80s Marvel Rocks!) celebrates "Indie-pendence Month" with his July reviews ...]

As I indicated last week, the world of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire isn’t something I normally follow. This isn’t the fault of any of the material; instead, it’s because A Game of Thrones, its fellow novels, and the various adaptations of them fall into one of my least-favorite genres: dystopian literature. It might be weird to think of a medieval fantasy doubling as a post-apocalyptic tale, but it’s a detail which emerges once you find out more and more of the backstory of how the various houses rose, fell, and went to war. I’m a student of epic literature; the story I want to read is the one of the younger Ned Stark, Robert Baratheon, and Tywin Lannister going to rescue Lyanna Stark, the kidnapped sister of Ned and girlfriend of Robert. That world is gone, replaced with political infighting and far fewer dragons.

Bantam Books and Dynamite Entertainment launched the adaptation of the novel A Game of Thrones just as the Game of Thrones television series went into production. It’s interesting to note that while Dynamite publishes the individual issues, there’s not a single mention of them on the slipcover; it’s instead presented as coming from Bantam. Also note the lack of an article in the name of the television series in case you thought that the graphic novels might be a way to catch up on the massive books. (Don’t worry, I thought that too.) The graphic novels published so far adapt the first novel, A Game of Thrones (emphasis on the "a") and the opening episodes of season one of the show; it will take years to adapt the entire series if they choose to do so.

According to the excellent extras in the back of the book, there’s one comic book page per every page of the novel. This works out for two reasons: the art means that many pages of narration can be trimmed down, and A Game of Thrones is “only” 864 pages long compared to the 1100+ pages of the later books. I can’t quite compare how the plot beats are laid out between the novel, television show, and comic book, but the last issue of this collection contains elements in the third and fourth episodes of the first season. This might seem like the book moves slowly -- and it does on occasion -- but it’s really just incredibly dense. There are subplots within subplots and probably a dozen new characters introduced in every issue; we don’t even get to see the world-famous Hodor until the last few pages!

Most of the characters resemble their television counterparts, a reflection on how good the casting department is on the show along with the research skills of writer Daniel Abraham. There are a few cases where I think artist Tommy Patterson knew or could guess which actors would play certain characters; his rendition of Tyrion looks almost exactly like Peter Dinklage. The only major deviances come in the form of Catelyn Stark, who looks much younger here, and Jon Snow, who looks like his half-brothers and, weirdly, like Catelyn. (This will end up being hilarious if the theories of Snow being the secret heir to the kingdom prove to be true.) Notable character Sandor “The Hound” Clegane is far uglier here, but that’s because it would take a lot of restrictive prostheses to produce the novel’s look. I’m excluding age when it comes to accuracy, since many characters were aged up for the television production due to child labor laws and, of course, nudity.

Speaking of nudity, if you’re thinking that the A Game of Thrones comic book is a sanitized version for a wider range of ages, you’d be very wrong. It follows the path of its predecessors in using sex to keep the reader involved while explaining plot elements. Tommy Patterson has also done work for Zenescope and I think he enjoyed being able to actually draw naked women versus just scantily-clad ones. I have a lot of complaints about Zenescope, but at least Patterson proves here that he can draw all kinds of figures and anatomy. The colors do have a weird sheen which I can’t quite explain but which I’ve seen on books by Zenescope and other publishers who haven’t quite mastered the newest computer coloring systems.

While I understand why people enjoy the series in its various forms, it’s just not for me. It dawned on me while reading the backstory that Ned Stark, the best friend of an extravagant king in a nation ruled from an overseas kingdom, is basically Wilfrid of Ivanhoe (and I’m not the only one who has noticed this). At that point, I just wanted to go re-read Ivanhoe and other classics like Orlando Furioso and Amadis of Gaul. I’ve recently come to a point where I don’t really enjoy pessimistic works, and it doesn’t get much more pessimistic than A Song of Ice and Fire. But don’t take that as a knock against this graphic novel. I do think that A Game of Thrones could attract new readers in this format. If a reader is interested in the franchise from the show or its reputation, it’s a serviceable way to get started, especially since the show didn’t diverge heavily from the novels until the more recent seasons.

Next week, speaking of Zenescope and epic fiction, it’s time to review a book I was going to do for Indie-Pendence Month last year but skipped in favor of Wasteland. History might end up repeating itself on that front. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
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