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Between the Panels: Fair(ie)ly Epics
By Lance Victor Eaton (April 2007)

The comic book industry has long grappled both with repackaging classics from literature and seeking to establish its own library of fantasy works, that could be analogous to the rise in epic fantasy books witnessed over the last twenty years. Since the musings of Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle entranced readers, mystery has become a dominant force in the publishing industry. So too, the works of authors like J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Terry Brooks have led to growing markets in fantasy (and epic fantasy).

BeowulfIt seems that a generation cannot pass without a definitive new translation of Beowulf. Gareth Hinds decided to base his graphic novelization on the 1904 A. J. Church translation, in an exhilarating presentation that does the epic justice. Beckoned to the hall of Hrothgar, strong, brave Beowulf must contend with Grendel, a dark and evil monster who repeatedly ravages the people. Beowulf defeats the beast with his bare hands. Shortly thereafter, Grendel's mother seeks revenge, and so Beowulf must again use his great strength to defeat another threat. His accomplishments eventually earn him the throne of Geatland, where he rules for fifty years. But when a dragon threatens the safety of his kingdom, he must rise again to fight off the menace. Poor Beowulf is no longer young and needs to muster all his ability to defeat the dragon.

Hinds' art proves to be solemn and complex. Single panels provoke all sorts of comments on mood, posture, style, and emotion. Though Hinds applies color throughout, his use of tint and way of invoking only certain colors at particular times is quite impressive. In the battle between Beowulf and Grendel, most panels maintain a dull yellow tint, which contrasts greatly with the black beastly body of Grendel. One can hardly turn more than a page or two without coming across a panel that is aesthetically intriguing unto itself. Added to this, Hinds uses as few words as possible, injecting them into the narrative as square blocks that invoke a deep resonate narrative voice. Both beautiful and engaging, this Beowulf lives up to its epic origins.

While the Brothers Grimm fairy tales are not quite epic, they are classic, and in Grimm Fairy Tales, Tyler pieces together the stories through an ongoing narrative. The premise of the series is that each fairy tale is reenacted through the imagination of someone living in the contemporary world after he or she has experienced something that invokes the legacy of that fairy tale. For instance, after Gina grows tired of her parents' draconian measures, she runs away with her brother Hank, and this invokes the tale of Hansel and Gretel. Other stories in this collection include Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rumplestiltskin, Sleeping Beauty, and The Robber Bridgegroom.

Grimm Fairy TalesOf course, these aren't the Disney version. Tyler uses the original Brothers Grimm material, resulting in a darker story than most people will recall. And all these stories take place in a larger context. As characters in the graphic novel enters into fairy tales, they are often guided by Ms. Mathers, a mysterious young woman. After this first volume, it seems like her character will become more complex and intertwined with the fairy tales as the series progresses. The colorful artwork does a moderate job of providing story, though sometimes the shadowing and detail vary drastically enough within a single tale to be a little distracting.

Archaic Volume 1 delivers the opening act for what could be a great epic series. The Drakanovs have long lived in the castle, Drakanc Hard. After a bloody battle between Blood Prince Petr Drakanov and the minions of his uncle, King Pan Groznyj, Petr falls to his death. But before Groznyj can capture Petr's child (key to the castle's destruction), the castle whisks the babe away, fueling the King's rage. Groznyj's power and wrath are both magical and maniacal, but many do not realize the depth of his cruelty and evil. Groznyj will stop at nothing to find the babe, including infiltrating the highly regarded Teardrop Knights who may have come into possession of the child.

Readers will quickly fall into step with the fast-paced adventure in Archaic and be impressed by the developing narrative. The coloring of the art varies between fantastic and mediocre. The graphic novel as a whole is dark, which adds mood and depth, but sometimes the shadowy scenes go beyond mood and prevent readers from understanding the panel.

Fantasy is often considered less than serious literature and yet the subtext it provides can be insightful and reflective of the society that produces it - in ways that contemporary fiction cannot achieve. Whether the style is epic, fairy tale, or just a bold new adventure, fantasy can pull in readers to comic art just as easily as it can to books.
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