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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

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Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Mania.com's "Pilgrim" review
Rotten Comics
The Stolen Hayes-Tilden Election
Dracula, the Company of Monsters
A Little About Vlad
Box Office Mojo
Ugo.com on what was left out of the Scott Pilgrim movie
Recent Books of Interest

Scott Pilgrim vol. 6 -- Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Oni)
Scott Pilgrim vol. 6 -- Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour "Wait, are those hipsters, or just Canadians? I'm not even sure anymore." Here at Nexus Graphica Central, we're confident enough to shout out to other reviewers, and that line was from Savage Henry Lee's of this same book over at Mania.com. And these, these Canadians are now totally hip, in what was supposed to be the summer of Scott Pilgrim (see column), what with the movie arriving at the same time as the conclusion to the 20-something saga about love, loss, power-ups (and downs) and moving through life's "levels." And indeed, since he's growing up (and creator O'Malley just hit his 30s), maybe it's his early autumn. The videogame logic of the previous editions here reaches its apotheosis, sometimes -- it must be confessed -- to the detriment of the story itself. The "rules" of this universe do keep shifting around -- but yes, I know, it's a different "level" than the previous volumes. Still, Scott's tentative forays into romance finally get resolved, though not without some blood spilled (isn't that always the way?), and O'Malley makes perhaps the best use of blank pages I've ever seen. The metaphors about being trapped inside our heads all jibe, but I could've used more of the minimalism, and maybe a slight "power-down" on the relentless sword fighting -- the blades come out, even inside the aforementioned head. But maybe that's what modern life -- as experienced by hipsters, Canadians, and everyone else -- feels like. It's different than the movie's ending, too. So read it.

Rotten #7 & #8 by Mark Rahner and Robert Horton (writers) and Dan Dougherty (art) (Moonstone Books)
Rotten #7 & #8 I seem to be on a roll with multiple issues of zombie titles I hadn't previously read. Rotten is "lively" enough that I want to see how the current arc, "Thy Will Be Done," finished up in #9. Set in the old West (and, apparently, Chicago) during the Reconstruction period, the stories feature a Presidential election stolen by a Republican candidate (in this instance, the popular vote-losing Rutherford B. Hayes), an impending visit by Charles Darwin (who didn't seem to take into account either zombies, or American fundamentalists in his theories), a touch of Sweeney Todd, a grizzly vs. zombie showdown that I wished I thought of first, and enough swearing to make any Deadwood fan happy. How can you refuse?

Dracula, the Company of Monsters #1 by Kurt Busiek & Daryl Gregory (writers) and Scott Godlewski (art) (Boom Studios)
Dracula, the Company of Monsters #1 With art somewhat evoking a 70s-era Marvel "Dracula" tale, Busiek & Gregory have given us the set up for a "historical" Dracula, going back to the legend's "roots" with ol' Vlad the Impaler, working hard to keep the Turks out of Eastern Europe -- and, you know, impaling a bunch of people along the way. The parallel of Vlad's world view to modern corporate ethos is sadly accurate, of course. The question is what action our hero will take -- born a scion to a corporate nest egg himself -- once he realizes the same thing. In a season of vampire saturation (said the zombie novelist), this take is at least initially engaging.

In the Matter of Mr. Pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Ramona Flowers
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
So there's still the usual buzz 'n' talk of comics movies -- what will Joss Whedon's take on The Avengers be like? Will Thor sort of fizzle at the box office, like the Hulk attempts, next summer? And is Riddler really in the next Chris Nolan Batman installment? .

But this summer was supposed to end with comics movies going in another direction, away from the sometimes interesting, yet increasingly "play it safe" caped fare being offered by the studios -- which, if anything, are always interested in releasing safe fare.

That other direction was to be Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, from the series of graphic novels that many readers here -- along with yer two humble correspondents -- have enjoyed since their initial release, a handful of years back. (See sidebar for review of the Pilgrim finale).

And yet, for all the billboard adverts, the big splash at Comic-Con, and all other promotion Universal did, the movie has (as of this writing) only made back about half its costs -- $30 million at the U.S. box office, against a tab of $60 million. Another $11 million was raked in internationally (according to the fine folks at Box Office Mojo), for a total of $41 million, and therefore an actual loss of a mere $20 mil. Of course, that's exclusive of advertising costs.

So, speaking of fizzles, why did the Scott Pilgrim flick have such a big one? Why didn't it pull an end-of-summer surprise like last year's District 9 or Inglourious Basterds? (the former being made for much less that Pilgrim, admittedly, but both late summer "genre"-themed successes).

Well, it's hard to say what the "official" reasons might be, if there are any, but probably Scott Pilgrim should've been made for a lot less, given its potential audience -- which was always bound to be smaller than one for Batman.

Batman/Iron Man/Spiderman flicks -- when done well, and enjoying good word of mouth -- can draw in "casual" viewers (i.e., those who don't read comics), since those "franchises" (pardon me) have been around for multiple generations, and everyone knows the characters.

The thing with Scott Pilgrim is that no one knew what or who it was. And by "everyone" I don't mean you or me, but the types of people you need to turn a tidy profit on a $60 million film. Which of course, isn't as costly as a $100 or $200 million dollar superhero or 3-D off-world movie, but still.

My 16 year-old son loved Scott Pilgrim and considers it, I think, a touchstone for his generation. A narrative in a "traditional" medium (in this case films, but of course, comics before that) that takes its cues -- its own internal logic, scene transitions, etc. -- from the newer "logic" of video games.

And of course the comics, at least, are structured on "levels" -- if that's what we're still calling the various "stages" of a videogame's narrative progress (though my son informs me that's somewhat passé) -- where each of the "evil exes" that Scott has to fight, to win the love of inter-dimensional messenger girl Ramona Flowers (I'm condensing here, and assuming a certain reader familiarity with the story), while contending with his twenty-something issues of low-wage jobs, near homelessness, and romantic and sexual ennui.

(On the other hand, it's been a couple of decades since I've been a twenty-something, and it occurs to me that I contend with many of those same issues as a middle-aged divorced single dad!)

But the producers made a mistake when envisioning the film, I think, because of that videogame logic -- the defeated enemies turning into piles of coins, with boons like "extra lives" and health points, and of course the "wire-work"-like martial arts moves, and the swordplay. Ah, the swords -- emerging out of nowhere (or sometimes chest cavities), to slash and parry with (and even, in the high stakes finale, to get stabbed with and spill actual blood over. Good thing about those extra lives, eh?).

The producers saw all the moves, and suddenly, Scott Pilgrim becomes a movie about a mild-mannered guy (played, natch, by Michael Cera), who has a secret identity (practically) as an on-call ninja sword fighter.

It smacked of superhero, after all.

Instead, they should have conceived the film more along the lines of Ghost World or American Splendor (RIP, Harvey!) -- a character study. And more of an art house or indie film, in terms of budgeting, advertising -- and release strategies.

And I think that's what I missed in the film adaptation, busy shoehorning all the graphic novels into a single tale -- more of a look at the supporting players (Scott's roommate Wallace, to use but one example) than the film could really afford.

Not that I didn't like the film -- I did. It was fun, and enough of the book's quirkiness was intact, but somehow the wistfulness of the books, the ruminations between the swordplay, all was given short shrift. Not that movies do "rumination" well, of course, at least, not anymore.

So the film never had much of a chance to build word-of-mouth to "non-initiates." It's not like hearing "hey, this is a really great Batman flick!," even if you haven't looked at one of the comics in years.

Instead, a description of Pilgrim -- to any of my fellow middle-agers, say -- would run along the lines of "well, it's about a kind of feckless kid who has videogame powers, and mysterious sword fighting skills, and has to fight his girlfriend's ex-lovers."

Hmm. Well, maybe that would be intriguing, I don't know. But I think the sword fighting should have been more of a secondary element, whereas by the end, the fight moves take over the whole story.

Still, I was going to see the movie anyway, since I already knew my Pilgrim (thanks to this reviewing gig and original word of mouth from partner-in-crime Mr. Klaw). And the film has at least helped the sale of the books.

But has it helped other quirky graphic novel properties get to the screen, or will they be deemed too "risky" now?

We'll have to see how Scott Pilgrim vs. the World does in its afterlife on DVDs, and in streams and downloads. Still, one of those extra lives -- of the sort that save Scott in both film and graphic novel -- could be really handy for the producers, in terms of re-conceiving what should have been, or could have been, a transformative project, in terms of Hollywood's relationship to what it finds in sequential panels, and what it sees as "cinematic."

Or thought-provoking, or even mind-blowing.

Alas, it seems that the only things "blowing" in summer comic movies to come will be capes, and explosions.

Copyright © 2010 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series, and awaits word on his latest written apocalypse. He sometimes looks at the bills on his desk and gets "vs. the world" thoughts of his own. He also gets Twittery @mlondonwmz


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