Category Archives: IDW Publishing

NEVSKY: A HERO OF THE PEOPLE Review

If I had one question to ask writer Ben McCool, I would ask him why he chose to write a graphic novel about the 13th Century Russian Hero-Prince Alexander Nevsky. But then I think I can come up with some good reasons why. One good reason is a somewhat similar venture: “300,” a successful 1998 graphic novel, also about a David versus Goliath type of battle, written and drawn by Frank Miller, inspired by the 1962 film, “The 300 Spartans.” Miller’s graphic novel went on to become, “300,” a successful movie in 2006.

In the case of “Nevsky: A Hero of the People,” McCool says his inspiration is the 1938 film, “Alexander Nevsky,” by the great Russian filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein. And that’s all well and good but it is not a film that will ring bells with anyone. If you were to mention to staff at any comics shop, Eisenstein’s most well known scene in his body of work, the “Odessa steps” sequence in “Battleship Potemkin,” it would be met with blank stares. So, in that respect, it is a curious and hard sell. However, if you mention that the 1938 “Nevsky” film influenced George Lucas in some way, namely Darth Vader’s hat, then you’ve got sort of a viable hook.

Part of this is a waiting game. There is always the possibility that the relatively unknown  “Nevsky” graphic novel will indeed lead to a new “Nevsky” major motion picture. You can read all about those details at the L.A. Times’s Hero Complex site. And then it’s a whole other playing field.

Everyone loves an underdog. And an action story with a great battle. And a true story is a good thing too. Alexander Nevsky is one of the great heroes of Russian history as he was there to fend off the Mongol invaders to his territory of Mother Rus and then he went on to join a significant neighboring territory and, with a hope and a prayer, was able to lead a victory over the marauding Teutonic Knights. This is truly the stuff of legend. It was just the sort of legend that Stalin needed to associate himself with when he put Eisenstein to work. The end result, the 1938 film, “Alexander Nevsky,” satisfied Stalin’s ends but, as for artistic integrity, not so much. Like “Star Wars,” this film does well with the epic battle scenes, muddles through human interaction, and is blunt without a hint of subtlety.

The best thing about the original film is how Eisenstein was able to work with another legend, the composer Sergei Prokofiev. They achieved a magnificent synchronizing of action and musical score with the rushing into battle of the Teutonic Knights.

What McCool set out to do was work with the film company, Mosfilm, that owns the original film, and create a companion graphic novel. You can think of it as you would any other graphic novel that supplements a major motion picture. It is not at all a, frame by frame, tribute to the original film or really an interpretation of the film. It is a retelling of the basic script: Nevsky, against all odds, finds a way to defeat the German invaders in what was then a collective of states coming into their own as Russia, in the 13th century. In that regard, this graphic novel does an excellent job of providing a quick read of a significant period in Russian history. It would also serve to inspire readers to view the original film.

As a graphic novel on its own merits, the story is well paced. It is the art, and the role it plays in this story, that is really interesting. The artwork by Mario Guevara is a curious mix of mystery and understatement. I think that style worked really well in “Victorian Undead.” And it works in “Nevsky” too in an unconventional way. Whereas Frank Miller’s style is ballsy, Guevara’s is contemplative. You get a sense that all the characters, including the hero, are making it up as they go. They are not larger-than-life, none of them are. In fact, the characters rather blend into each other. So, in an odd way, it is leaning more toward realism and not evoking a hero’s tale. There are exquistely drawn scenes throughout to be sure. Overall, it’s the mood that is dialed down and that’s actually an improvement over the original film.

Given the desire to be flexible and experiment with having any and all subjects open to a graphic novel treatment, “Nevsky” is a welcome addition on the shelves. “Nevsky: A Hero of the People” is a 110-page graphic novel published by IDW. You can order your own copy through Amazon and you can check out the Nevsky site here.

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Filed under Ben McCool, Comics, Comics Reviews, graphic novels, IDW Publishing, Mario Guevara, movies, Russia, Sergei Eisenstein, Stalin

"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" is a favorite at IDW Publishing



This is a trifle but worth mentioning nonetheless. Apparently, IDW Publishing is really into The Twilight Zone this week as it has two of its titles refer to the same classic episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” You don’t mess with such an iconic piece of television without good reason but that didn’t stop Scott Lobdell, of X-Men fame, from writing, “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet,” for Issue Three of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Music Box. I want to like this title because the potential is there for it to be so wierd and Jen appears to be so lovely but I’m starting to think that maybe no one is going to get any love from this comic because maybe no one really cares what happens to it, at least not in the writing. The art was going south too but this issue and the next are pulling this back up to cruising speed.

In this latest Hewitt Music Box, the story revolves around a corporal on his return flight from Iraq. He’s an “aw shucks” sweet guy and even makes friends with a very sexy girl despite the fact he can hardly put two words together an account of his shyness or slowness. Anyway, this sadsack means no harm but he’s the latest person to find that evil box and so there’s hell to pay. The plane rocks back and forth due to a heavy storm. People panic. The sexy girl panics. And the sadsack can’t get the music out of his head. Make it stop! Finally, he tracks down the box, lifts open the cargo door, which should have sent everything into a tailspin but doesn’t, and throws out the box. The girl will have nothing to do with him and he’s left in a catatonic state. Basically, this is safe, predictable and bland.

Anyway, the fact is that, if Jen did have any creative involvement in this comic, it was to embue it with her overall mellowness. Mellow might work on an attractive woman but mellow is not so good for any really good entertainment. To speak the truth, “The Ghost Whisperer” is pure mellow. It is what it is. Everyone on that show and every plot on that show is oh so mellow without anything remotely animated or interesting to be found anywhere near it. But the darn thing has a lot of fans or at least enough. So, why not have a comic on that same safe vibe, right? I suppose no harm in that but it’s also a shame. If the stakes were higher, I wonder, would Lobdell try harder? Considering the project, you’d think the stakes were already fairly high. Apparently, not high enough. I’d love to be kinder about this but maybe the truth is that you win some and you lose some.

Now, on the winning side to taking on the William Shatner-goes-bonkers-over-a-gremlin-only-he-can-see-hellbent-on-destruction-TV-gem is to have a darn good reason to bring it up in the first place. That is the case with IDW’s other Twilight Zone related comic offering this week, Weekly World News #2. This one shows pride in workmanship and that makes perfect sense because the IDW publisher and editor-in-chief, Chris Ryall, is doing the writing himself. And, not only that, the art is in tune with the humor. My hat is off to Alan Robinson for all the care he put into making this comic so much fun.

There’s a lot of political humor here and that is certainly a tricky thing to make work. You have to strike the right balance and then you have to transcend whatever gripe or rant you may have. Ryall and Robinson achieve this by very well paced and funny writing and art. Essentially, much of the plot revolves around Ed Anger,a right-wing nut, who is in hot pursuit of his liberal nemisis, Bat Boy. Anger suffers from a fevered brain full of conspiracy theories. And Bat Boy is simply Bat Boy, a bekon of hope to his adoring fans. On the flight back from a botched attempt to take down Manigator, the half-man half-alligator mutant, Anger looks out his window to see Bat Boy sitting on a wing of the plane. It’s perfectly timed and alone well worth buying the comic. To add to it, as the plane starts to free fall, we get a panel with Bat Boy striking a pose against a background of lightning like in The Dark Knight.

The great thing about Weekly World News is that it’s not just a couple of panels to watch out for. The whole thing is good. It may look easy but it’s a safe bet that this one took some elbow grease. You don’t go in and make a sloppy, near random, reference to The Twilight Zone and expect me not to squawk about it. Weekly World News knows how to handle such an undertaking and that is a sign of quality and greatness.

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Filed under Comics, IDW Publishing, Jennifer Love Hewitt's Music Box, Scott Lobdell, Weekly World News