Review: Edward Scissorhands Vol. 1: Parts Unknown trade paperback (IDW Publishing)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Among the wonderful spate of comics giving cancelled television shows new seasons, it seems perfectly apt that the cinematic adventures of Edward Scissorhands should continue, starting with IDW's Edward Scissorhands Vol. 1: Parts Unknown, from writer Kate Leth and artist Drew Rausch. Though I'm a fan of the Star Trek novels, it's clear Edward Scissorhands prose would lack the visual majesty of Tim Burton's original, and so comics offers a natural venue for bringing Edward back to life (I'd make a similar argument about Back to the Future, which too IDW is resurrecting in four-color glory).

Taken as a whole, Edward Scissorhands is a fine all-ages-ish comic (it gets PG, if not PG-13, in rare moments, but Rausch's style is family-friendly enough that those moments would probably go over most kids' heads); certainly, Rausch channels zaniness akin to a Burton project. Leth's story is enjoyable, too, though maybe a tad small. While Leth gets all the thematic elements of Edward Scissorhands, and even begins to build on them in interesting ways, this feels less like a sequel to Edward Scissorhands, the movie, and more like the pilot of an Scissorhands television show or the the first arc in an Scissorhands comic. Since that is what it is, it's not necessarily a bad thing, though I hope Leth continues to build the drama as the story continues.

[Review contains spoilers]

Edward Scissorhands, the movie, is a classic amalgamation of Frankenstein and Beauty and the Beast, maybe with a little Pinocchio and Romeo and Juliet mixed in. Edward is a symbol of the misfit and the misunderstood; he also demonstrates how society fears and rejects what we don't understand. Leth hits those nostalgic notes almost right away, orienting Parts Unknown as a thematic successor -- no sooner does Megan "Megs" Boggs, granddaughter of Edward Scissorhands's Kim Boggs, find Edward in his castle, than she sees a mutilated rat, believes Edward killed it, and then fears Edward will kill her, too. There's no cause and effect here other than Edward's frightening appearance, and in this Leth encapsulates the entirety of the original movie; Edward is doomed from the start for no reason he can control, just how he looks and the facts of his birth.

But only a few pages later, Leth equally brings forth the other message of Edward Scissorhands, that it's really us, not the monster, who're the monsters. In the movie it takes rioting townspeople to demonstrate this; in Parts Unknown, Megs accidentally insults Edward and then admits, "I don't mean to hurt anybody on purpose, either." Only halfway through the book, Leth has the main characters travel essentially the entire arc of Edward Scissorhands, clearing the way for Leth to say new things with Edward rather than be locked within Burton's original tropes.

One of Leth's avenues for expansion is that Parts Unknown is a story significantly more about family, and less about suburban sprawl, than the original movie. In keeping Parts Unknown relatively all-ages, there is less sex and sexual innuendo than in Scissorhands, not to mention that Leth would seem to eliminate romantic entanglements between Edward and Megs given that he loved her grandmother (and possibly is her grandfather). As such, one of Parts's strongest arcs involves Megs's curiosity both about Edward and her grandmother, versus Mrs. Boggs (Meg's mother) not wanting to lose her daughter "too," as she says. It's subtle, but the reader intuits that Kim continued to talk about Edward -- even though, supposedly, she never saw him again -- to the point perhaps of madness, such that Mrs. Boggs equates Edward with the loss of her mother in spirit if not in body.

Also notable in the book, in absentia, is Kim Boggs's father. He appears on scant few pages, and most notably when Mrs. Boggs claims she and Mr. Boggs have been out searching for the missing Megs, we actually find him home on the couch eating potato chips (and making excuses for not having joined the search). Though a strict constructionist viewing of Edward Scissorhands would maintain Kim never saw Edward again, I think dramatically that's hardly likely, and I wonder if Leth is moving toward some exploration of fathers and children here within the theme of family -- Kim doesn't have much relationship with her father just as Mrs. Boggs, possibly, didn't have much relationship with her actual father, Edward.

My concern in reading a seemingly all-ages approach to Edward Scissorhands is that it might lack some of the bite of the original -- Burton being charming but also purposefully ghastly at times. Leth does not shy away from the creepiness, however, nor even necessarily the gore. The story's robotic "demon child," Eli, kidnaps a little boy, and given the fate of the rat, at one point I wondered if in this seemingly-animated story, the bad guy might actually murder a child. It gets pretty intense later on, to be sure, especially when Eli starts ripping at the boy with his claws. In the end, what we find is that Eli has only carved the image of a heart into the boy's chest, though that's a big "only" and could certainly have been played more gruesomely if the creative team had decided to do so. That's a good middle ground, leaving the book's horror up to interpretation essentially, and I appreciated that I didn't feel "talked down to" in reading this book.

Artist Drew Rausch certainly gets some credit in that regard, knowing when to push the "scary" forward and when to pull it back. The art is also delightfully weird; I was struck, for instance, by the salad the little boy eats in the beginning, which for no good reason has animated shrimp sticking out of it. These kinds of details -- a television sitting atop plates on a kitchen table -- are what I'd consider Burton-esque, weird because why be normal, and it helps give the story a Burton vibe despite that the art isn't quite in Nightmare Before Christmas style as I might have expected. A lot of the Edward scenes here are silent, which surely speaks the creative team's strength, though I can't say I was always entirely sure what was going on in every silent panel.

Ultimately what bothered me -- but maybe impressed me a little, too -- is that the end is fairly quiet. As opposed to Edward having to kill Jim in the movie, here Edward is surprised by Eli and then pretty soon after Eli kills himself, simply because of looking at Edward and how Edward makes Eli feel. Edward is present but not the "hero" of the story in a traditionally climactic way; further, even as Parts also involves townspeople run amok, it's more a peaceful protest than torches and pitchforks. That's different, maybe more twenty-first century than the original movie (also that the whole town is under surveillance), and I don't mind that Edward doesn't have to resort to superhero-esque violence. At the same time, again, it more resembles a comic's opening arc than a cinematic sequel to Edward Scissorhands.

For those willing to stick around a while, Edward Scissorhands Vol. 1: Parts Unknown is a good start to a series for general audiences, and something different than "usual" comics fare (though "usual" is more widely defined all the time). It most certainly hits the important Edward Scissorhand notes thematically. Structurally and plot-wise, there's maybe farther to go, but that's all the more reason for the book to continue on successfully.
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