KONG: KING OF SKULL ISLAND
by Joe DeVito
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In 1933, Merian C. Cooper created a film superstar with the appearance of "King Kong." The film included iconographic imagery of the giant ape atop the Empire State Building and made Fay Wray a household name as well as spawning a sequel, a remake and another remake scheduled for later in 2005. Artist Joe DeVito took at look at Cooper's film and decided it cried out not only for a sequel (ignoring the quickly made "Son of Kong," also 1933) but also for a prequel. Kong: King of Skull Island, not only tells of Carl Denham's son's search for his father, but also explains how Kong achieved his deific status on the island.
The book opens with Carl Denham returning to Skull Island with Kong's body after the fiasco in New York, partly to atone for his earlier activities on the island, but mostly to escape the recriminations in New York. The scene then jumps forward to 1957 when Kong's attack and subsequent disappearance is treated as a massive hoax, a seven-days' wonder, and Vincent Denham, Carl's son, is working as a paleontologist who views his father as the man who abandoned him and led to his mother's death. The chance discovery of a map of Skull Island in his father's hand leads Vincent to recruit Jack Driscoll for a voyage back to the island to find out what happened to his father.
Upon his arrival at the island, Vincent not only slowly learns the fate of his father, but also learns the history of Kong prior to his father's arrival a quarter of a century before. It would appear that the crew of the S.S. Venture was not the first European ship to land on Skull Island, but was beaten by an English ship during the Victorian period. When the earlier ship arrived, Skull Island was ruled by a tyrannosaur, Gaw, rather than Kong, who was only one of the island's great apes.
While the story is generally good, although it raises many questions and is often predictable, the real focus of Kong: King of Skull Island is the collection of paintings DeVito created for the work. Rather than having DeVito's paintings illustrate the story by Brad Strickland and John Michlig, the story illustrates the paintings. The paintings capture the full range of the story of King Kong, from the faces of the native islanders to Kong's skeleton mounted over a prone tyrannosaur.
A mix of styles and media for the pictures appear throughout the book, with softer colors showing the playful scenes of Ishara and Kublai in the bay while Kong looks on (pp62-3) to the more pulpish look of Jack Driscoll's movements through the tunnels under the island (pp104-5). Other images fill only portions of the page, such as close-ups of the various characters, flora or fauna of the island which are generally monochromatic.
For all that the story can be engaging, DeVito's art is the real reason to pick up Kong: King of Skull Island. Images from the book were exhibited at the Worldcon art show in Boston in 2004 and caught the eye of many of the convention's attendees, perhaps the best pre-publication publicity the book could have received and an indication of the vitality of the Kong name in this year which will eventually see Peter Jackson's vision, which will most assuredly differ from DeVito's, but not subsume the images of this work.
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