WEEKEND READING: Old Stories, New Spins

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to a brand new weekly column here on Splash Page, folks. Kicking off today and continuing every Friday, we’ll review some comics that arrived on shelves recently or will do so down the road. Most weeks we’ll have a theme for the reviews, but sometimes it will just be a mix of books we read recently and want to tell you about. As always, you’re invited to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comment section or on Twitter.

Hollywood never seems to shy away from recycling an old story with a new spin, so why not comics? With “Robin Hood” hitting theaters this week, the inaugural chapter of Weekend Reading will focus on a trio of comics that similarly provide a fresh take on classic stories.

“Beast” by Marian Churchland (w/a), Image Comics: Marian Churchland’s first original graphic novel is a modern-day take on “Beauty and the Beast,” in which an out-of-work sculptor is hired to create a statue of a mysterious client, but finds herself drawn into his isolated life in the shadows.

I loved Churchland’s art in “Elephantmen” (one of my favorite ongoing series), and with “Beast” she proves that her talents extend far beyond illustration. Along with the book’s extremely detailed imagery, Churchland has crafted a unique, original take on the classic story that strays just far enough from the source material to have some surprises and exist independently, but close enough that you’re reminded why the story is such a classic.

“Beast” is the sort of book you’re compelled to read from beginning to end in a single sitting, because you don’t want to interrupt the moody storytelling environment Churchland has created for the story.

“Beast” is on shelves now.

“Greek Street – Blood Calls for Blood” by Peter Milligan (w) and David Gianfelice (a), Vertigo: Greek tragedies are transported to modern-day London in this collection of the first five issues of Milligan and Gianfelice’s gritty, bloody tale.

The stories of Oedipus, Agamemnon and the rest of their doomed brethren have informed no small amount of movies, television series and literature over the years, with varying levels of success. This time around, Milligan kicks things off by introducing the major players via a modernized Oedipus tale, and the first issue does a great job of connecting characters to their original counterparts and laying the groundwork for the tangled webs they’ll weave.

While the first few chapters did an admirable job of bringing multiple well-known stories into our world, the over-arching tale seems to suffer under the weight of meshing so many different characters into a single narrative while also finding modern-era equivalents to necessary elements. Gianfelice successfully differentiates the large cast visually, but I found myself constantly back-tracking in the book to recall each character’s role in the story, which character he/she was based on, and how that relates to the story at hand. What started out as a fun story turned into a bit of a research project as the story progressed.

“Greek Street – Blood Calls for Blood” is available now.

“Pride and Prejudice And Zombies: The Graphic Novel” adapted by Tony Lee (w) and Cliff Richards (a), Del Rey: Seth Grahame-Smith’s zombie-fueled reinvention of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” gets a reinvention of its own in this graphic novel that puts an illustrated face to the Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s unlikley courtship amid the undead.

First off, I should confess that I’ve never read “Pride and Prejudice.” I’ve never watched the various movies or television series based on Austen’s novel. In fact, the “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” graphic novel was my first introduction to the story — and that’s the likely source of 90 percent of my issues with the book.

On the positive side, Richards’ art is practically flawless, though the tale’s not without moments at which I was uncertain which character is which due to the Bennet sisters’ resemblance. The artist does an otherwise great job with the array of human characters, zombies, battle scenes and the quieter moments in the story, making them all compelling in their own way.

Lee’s adaptation seems like a faithful one from what I’ve heard of Austen’s book and Grahame-Smith’s subsequent spin on it. There were a few points when I couldn’t discern which characters were connected to others via love, lust, anger or politics, but I don’t know whether this was a problem with the adaptation, the source material, or the source material’s source material, having not experienced the story in any of its previous forms.

In the end, when I could follow along with “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Graphic Novel,” I enjoyed it immensely. However, the book feels like it’s better suited for readers familiar with the “Pride and Prejudice” story or Grahame-Smith’s take on it. More than anything else, it makes me want to go out and read Grahame-Smith’s novel, then revisit Lee and Richards’ adaptation with a little more background on the Bennet sisters’ world.

“Pride and Prejudice And Zombies: The Graphic Novel” is available now.

Have any thoughts on the books reviewed here? Let us know in the comment section or on Twitter!