by The Masked Bookwyrm

Media Tie-In Stories - page 2

CSI: Thicker Than Blood 2003 (SC GN) 48 pgs.

Written by Jeff Mariotte. Illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, and Ashley Wood.
Colours: Fran Gamboa, Ashley Wood. Letters: Robbie Robbins. Edited by Kris Oprisko.

coverBased on the the TV series.

Interview with creator Anthony Zuiker.

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Published by IDW Publishing

Media tie-in comics often used to be disappointing -- too often seeming simplistic or watered down versions of their inspiration. Maybe it was because too many comics seemed to be written and drawn by creators who often didn't seem that familiar with the source material -- and didn't much care! Or maybe it was that I just had too high a standards, taking it too seriously (oh -- so-and-so would never say that! What a stupid comic!) Whereas I'm more easy going these days.

Whatever, I've enjoyed some media inspired comics lately.

CSI: Thicker Than Blood is based on the hit TV series, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. It's one of a series of CSI based stories from publisher IDW -- including other one-shots, plus some mini-series (not to mention comics based on the TV spin-off CSI: Miami).

And for fans of the show, it does a decent enough job evoking the series -- for good and bad.

Scripter Jeff Mariotte tells a straight, investigative/detective story, as the CSI team investigate two separate cases (as the series' episodes often split their attention) -- one involving an attempted mob hit, the other, the disappearance of an Elvis impersonator. And it all seems pretty evocative. The characterization is minimal as the heroes' personalities take a back seat to the cases -- like in the series -- but Mariotte has enough feel for them that the dialogue and quips seem appropriate to the different characters (like the opening scene where an off-the-cuff remark by Nick leads to Gill launching into a pedagogical speech revealing his knowledge of obscure trivia). And the Elvis case also evokes the series' penchant for having cases embroil the characters in various fringe sub-cultures and professions (actually, CSI -- the series -- is kind of reactionary when you think of it, tending to portray any alternative group as weird and twisted; I mean, this is a series that could make people who play a Scrabble-like game seem like freaks!)

Actually another way the comic evokes the series is in the short shrift given the Sara character. I'll confess, I think actress Jorja Fox is kinda hot, and I used to watch the series, in part, for her...and I began to notice that her screen time seemed less and less (I half wondered if she was being punished for a contract dispute she had with the producers, but the actor who plays Nick was also involved, and his part doesn't seem diminished). Anyway, in this story, of the five CSI's, her part is the most negligible (mind you the coroner guy only appears in a few panels!)

Artist Gabriel Rodriguez does a decent enough job evoking the actors, and has a realist, understated style that suits the story. And even his original characters look realistic, so that you don't have a jarring contrast between the actor-based drawings and the made-up characters (he might well use models for some of them, too). In a bit of gratuitous titillation, the characters' investigation requires them talking to some strippers...and Rodriguez handles the, um, aesthetics of those scenes quite well, too (keeping it just this side of being "mature readers"). Though the overall colouring is a bit drab and grey -- not quite evoking the glaring sun of the Nevada dessert. When the characters speculate about a case, and we flashback to re-enactments, a different, stylized art style is employed by Ashley Wood -- it's an interesting trick, making it obvious we're seeing a speculative flashback, though the style makes it hard to entirely tell what's going on.

The down side to all this is that the comic is full of talking heads, discussing facts and figures. Mariotte and Rodriguez do a good job keeping the energy up, but it's still a bit dry. As mentioned, the series itself is often more plot driven than character-driven, but even it usually works in some sort of emotional/character element. As well, there aren't many twists and turns to the cases (the way the series would often have a case start out seeming about one thing, then turn out to be something else) and there are so few suspects introduced, that there aren't many surprises in the solutions. And there was also some questionable logic, particularly regarding the time frame. I don't think the title has any meaning, per se, and I'm still not sure why the story seems to open with the explosion of a pirate ship -- nothing more is said about it, so I'm guessing I misread the visuals.

This also features an interview with CSI TV creator, Anthony E. Zuiker, which is perhaps as amusing -- unintentionally -- as it is insightful. Zuiker, for instance, says that after having done CSI and CSI: Miami, he thinks a third series could only be justified if set in another country, that something like -- to use his example -- a CSI: New York would be pointless. But, of course, just a year or so after this interview, they came out with CSI: New York! Zuiker also goes on to talk about the realism and accuracy of the series...when I've read articles interviewing real forensics experts who complain the series sets up false expectations of what they can do. And even a lay person can pick up on the implausibility of much of it (just like the series MacGyver used real scientific theories...but in unrealistic ways).

Anyway, enough of my snide tirade...

Thicker Than Blood isn't a classic example of CSI, but it does evoke the series, in story and visuals, and should be fun for fans during the dry months of summer reruns.

Original cover price: $__ CDN./ $6.99 US

Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer 2007 (DC TPB) 208 pages

cover by SimonsonWritten by Michael Moorcock. Art by Walter Simonson.
Colours: Steve Oliff. Letters: John Workman. Editor: Joey Cavalieri.

Reprinting: the four-part prestige format mini-series (2004-2006)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Published by DC Comics

Michael Moorcock's sword & sorcery hero, the albino Elric of Melnibone, is arguably the most famous fantasy series character after Conan the Barbarian, with a long, somewhat eclectic publishing history. Though written for short stories and novels, the character has enjoyed some comic book appearances. But other than an early 1970s guest appearance in a couple of Conan comics (written by Roy Thomas but with Moorcock credited as a co-plotter) such incursions into the four colour field have generally been simply adaptations of the text stories.

Until Elric, the Making of a Sorcerer, which is an original comic book adventure...and one written by Moorcock himself.

I mentioned that Elric's publishing history was a bit eclectic. And that's because the character first came into being in the early 1960s, featured in a few short stories and novels, culminating in the characters death. The series was steeped in a deliriously over-the-top adolescent angst, with Elric a star-crossed, tragic anti-hero, bemoaning his cursed fate as a puppet of cosmic forces he barely understood, saddled with a vampiric black sword, Stormbringer, that was as much a curse as an aide.

Moorcock himself has made no bones about his own shifting feelings about his most famous creation who, I suspect, was Moorcock's own personal Stormbringer -- something that he constantly casts aside...only to reluctantly be drawn back to.

He returned to the character in the 1970s, writing new stories to be inserted between the originals and concocting a whole "multiverse" where Elric was but one facet of The Champion Eternal. Then he moved away from the character again, often in essays and editorials implying, in essence, that he had out grown the mindset that created him. But Moorcock has returned to the character again and again, but I would argue, his ambivalence toward the character, and a perhaps understandable ambivalence to the violent, hack n' slash mentality of sword and sorcery in general,.has led to some problematic novels which seem to lack the undercurrent of tragic fatalism that was, after all, the point of the series...and even much sense of adventure (The Fortress of the Pearl, for instance, seemed slow moving and padded, as if Moorcock was writing to meet a word count, rather than from inspiration).

So for Moorcock to turn to comics might seem like one final, mercenary effort to squeeze a few more dollars out of a property even Moorcock no longer had much interest in. (a concern added to by some sloppy backcover text: misspelling the Moorcock novel, Behold the Man, or likening the story to the Lord of the Rings as if DC Comics itself didn't really have faith, or interest, in the Elric franchise and were simply trying to cash in on the TLOTR movies!)

In fact, despite having been a big fan of Moorcock and Elric in my younger days, I had become sufficiently discontented with Moorcock's later, 80s and beyond return to the character, that I hadn't, initially, paid that much attention to this series when it first came out.

So it was a pleasant surprise to find that the Making of a Sorcerer is actually pretty good.

Intended as a prequel to the Elric saga, it features Elric having to prove his worthiness to be heir to the Melnibonean throne by undergoing a series of dreamquests -- with his sinister cousin Yrkoon attempting to see him dead before he succeeds. The idea of the dreamquests is that basically Elric finds himself living the life of some ancient ancestor, each of the four "books" set in a different time, while also forming a sort of chronicle of Melnibonean culture. (As such, though each issue is part of the mini-series, the core plot of each issue is self-contained).

Moorcock adapts to the comic book medium quite well, the stories are decently paced, the scenes themselves told with economy. The plots brim with wild and dreamlike concepts, having aspects of folktales about them as Elric's world is full of demons and gods and talking birds, ancient vows and cryptic sorcery. At first blush, a series about Elric set before the main series -- and before he acquired Stormbringer -- and in which Elric is essentially not himself (as he is living the lives of ancestors) might seem like it's not really going to be an "Elric" series -- and in some ways, perhaps, it isn't. But in other ways, it is, as Elric is still caught up in the machinations of the higher realms and those of the Duke of Chaos, Arioch. Stormbringer even crops up from time to time.

Though not as deliberately bleak and nihilistic as the Elric stories could be, Elric himself less cynical and generally triumphing over his ordeals, nonetheless there is meant to be a melancholy progression as the trek through history is meant to show us how the relatively benign Melnibone of ancient history became the corrupt Empire of Elric's age.

How well this will all read for someone wholly unfamiliar with the Eric stories, I'm not sure. But I suspect it probably isn't the best jumping in point. Oh, the nature of the "historical" adventures means that the gist of the stories aren't really connected to the other Elric stories...but certainly themes and cryptic foreshadowing will only resonate for fans. Conversely, how well this adherers to the Elric mythos is also questionable, as the nature of a series written over many decades and, as noted, in various phases, means Moorcock himself has sometimes contradicted his own continuity (I believe). But though I've read most of the Elric stories, I haven't necessarily re-read them that recently, ad I didn't really feel you needed an encyclopedic recall of the Elric stories to enjoy this.

The art is by Walter Simonson -- no stranger to sword & sorcery type comics, having had a long and respected run on the mythological based Thor comics. Simonson's raw, energetic art might not seem the obvious choice for Elric (the first Elric comic I read being drawn by P.Craig Russell in his more elegant, dreamlike style) but it works well. In fact, I'd argue this may be among the best work I've seen from Simonson...and artist who, I'll admit, I sometimes have mixed reactions to, feeling his line work can be a bit cluttered and overly busy. Simonson's costume and set designs seem a mixture of Norse (appropriate for a guy who did Thor) and North American Indian influences. Again, not necessarily what you first think of when thinking of Elric...but Simonson quickly makes the series his own, visually speaking, setting the scenes against vast and sprawling, barren landscapes effectively evoking the idea of a world in its infancy.

The Making of a Sorcerer, surprisingly, emerges as one of Moorcock's better Elric tales in years, and perhaps showing Moorcock finding a way to reconcile his sensibilities of today with the sensibilities that first gave birth to the character. As such there is a melancholy undercurrent at times, and the idea of heroes who are pawns on a cosmic chessboard...without being narcissistically bleak or nihilistic. And though there is fighting and bloodshed, there's not an undue reliance on that. Moorcock paces out his tales well, so that the tempo is brisk, the sense of adventure and running about high...without it just being scenes of Elric hacking away at adversaries.

Sure, the twists and turns aren't always as twisty and turny as you might like -- you don't necessarily close the book marvelling at the clever machinations and re-reading scenes to see how certain things were set in motion. And, as it is a "prequel" you might feel that, by the time it's over, it hasn't really taken you anywhere as it is, in a way, a prologue. But, if one wanted to compare, you could say Moorcock succeeded more with his prequel quartet than say, George Lucas did with his prequel trilogy.

As I mentioned, what too easily could be dismissed as a mercenary, throw away effort by a creator milking one more go round form a character he no longer believes in, actually emerges as solid entry in the Elric canon.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $19.99 USA.

Graphic Classics: Edgar Allan Poe
see my review here

Graphic Classics: Jack London
see my review here

Graphic Classics: Rafael Sabatini
see review here


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