Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Photos From The War

With details of the third series of Game of Thrones now leaking out all over the place, and Martin himself now well into the second year of writing what he's the only person in the world believes will be the penultimate novel of the series, it might be worth looking at the third version of his continents-spanning fantasy epic, with Daniel Abraham's comic book adaption.

There's something of a line to be walked when considering this from the perspective of a long-time fan.  On the one hand, one of the easiest ways to understand the comic is to consider how it compares with the original source material and the 2011 TV season.  On the other hand, the immediate question generated by such an approach is: do we really need a third take on a story that hasn't even finished first time around yet?

By and large, I want to dodge that question (which is not to say I'm unsympathetic to the underlying point), and just figure out what separates Abraham's approach from Martin's and from that of Benioff and Weiss.  The first and most important difference, as is probably easy to surmise, is in pacing: the six issues that form the first volume of the comic cover something like two and half episodes of the TV series, which in turn dealt with some twenty or so chapters of the book.  The HBO adaptation wisely jettisoned more than a little of what those chapters contained, but they also added a few scenes here and there to aid with character development, not because Martin had necessarily failed in that task himself, but because the show necessitates dispassionate readings of characters that the personalised chapters of the book simply can't provide.

The comic book seems far more determined to follow Martin's original work far more closely.  This isn't particularly surprising, both because Martian and Abraham are old colleagues and have worked together on several occasions, and because the jump from prose to annotated illustration is far smaller than from prose to screen, at least in terms of how a narrative is shaped.

Whether this increase in devotion to the source material is welcome or not is, of course, a matter of personal taste. For my part, whilst I'm not prepared to call it a mistake, it does have me slightly concerned.  The slimming/replacement job Benioff and Weiss pulled off with their first series helped give the show it's own identity, indeed frequently the best scenes in the piece were ones absent from the books.  Here, the feeling is simply of the book having paragraphs simply cast aside, not so much an adaptation as a summation (though in fairness, it took longer than the equivalent of these first six issues for the show to really find its feet).

Given the job the comic has been given to do; basically to cover a page of text (or a minute of screen time) with each page of panels, it's probably sensible to have taken Abraham's approach.  Sensible, of course, does not necessarily mean good.  The overall feel here is not so much of a coherent narrative so much as a picture montage to accompany the original text.  Now, that in itself isn't automatically worthless, and indeed the art here is very good.  It's also, and again this can't be considered in any way surprising, far more evocative of the book's imagery than the TV show can hope to be.  Catelyn Stark in particular gains a great deal from Tommy Patterson's rendering that she lost from Michelle Fairley's hilarious miscasting (which has nothing to do with Fairley as an actress; she's just in completely the wrong role) as does Theon Greyjoy for just not being Alfie Allen, but I much prefer this interpretation of the Others, and of the architecture and heraldry of Westeros.

There's also something to be said for the nudity/sex scenes in the comic, which lack either HBO's wearying overkill or Martin's occasional tendency (which is rather less occasional these days) to lapse into toe-curling discomfort, in which the fact that you're reading a middle-aged man describing, say, a thirteen year old girl's first sexual experience following seduction-by-fingering.  And if Patterson's quite lovely representation of a naked Catelyn bears no relation to what an early Middle Age woman could possibly look like after five children, then at least she's not the pneumatic sex object one might have feared, and at least no-one's asking anyone else to play with anyone's arse.

Basically, if you want to look at some very pretty pictures whilst reminding yourself of the plot of Game of Thrones, this works exceptionally well; a kind of beautifully illustrated Cliff Notes, if you will.  That might not be a bad way to revise the story in preparation for the arrival of The Winds of Winter, (the comic will need to be on issue two hundred and something by then, but that's really not something I'd feel inclined to bet against).  That said, it'd be a damned expensive way to do it.  I guess it all comes down to a simple formula:

Value of comic = Desire to see Others - Desire to see jiggling tits all the damn time.

You can all make your own minds up on that one.

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