Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Incredibles: Family Matters #1 (of 4)

Boom! Studios/Boom! Kids, 22 pages, $ 2.99

Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Marcio Takara
Colorist: Andrew Dalhouse
Letterer: Jose Macasocal, Jr.
Cover artists: Michael Avon Oeming, Nick Filardi

The Incredibles is one of the two titles launching Boom! Studios’ new line of licensed comics for kids, aptly titled Boom! Kids. And if you’re in the market for a line of licensed comics for kids, then The Incredibles certainly is one of the best, most promising properties for you to be pursuing right now. The film was a big success, after all, both commercially and critically, and it’s made the characters household names for Disney and Pixar. Plus, for any North American comics company in the business of producing periodicals, the fact that it’s also, on top of being well-known and popular, a superhero property can only be further incentive.

Now, the good news is, as a licensed comic, this is pretty far up the scale. Mr. Waid does a very good job re-introducing the characters, their abilities and powers and relationships, and Mr. Takara does equally impressive work capturing their likenesses, and generally makes it a comic that looks pretty and attractive and amazingly close to what people are familiar with from the big screen. The creators have managed to produce a story that’s well-told and effective in what it sets out to do—the composition of the camera angles and perspectives is just plain fantastic—and that broadly captures the spirit of the film and its characters. It’s not an easy feat by any means, and the vast majority of adaptations don’t get that far.

So, where’s the problem?

Well, a lot of the time, “captures the spirit” translates into telegraphing the broad strokes of the kind of stuff we would expect to be going on if this were a Disney/Pixar film, while at the same time being emphatically aware that it’s not. For instance, we remember the subtle rapport between Mr. and Mrs. Incredible that was so brilliantly communicated through dialogue, gestures and facial expressions in the film. And the comic certainly tries its best to recall it. But it’s just not on the page. The same goes for the interplay between Violet and the neighbors’ son. The same goes for the fight with the robot. And for much of the rest of what’s going on.

Take the last six pages, for instance, in which Mr. Incredible sneaks into the zoo at night and tries to retrieve a bomb from amid a pride of sleeping lions. It’s by far the story’s strongest sequence, and it does some stunning work, all things considered. But mainly, what stands out about it is how much more it could be doing. Why isn’t that lion’s leg wrapped around the bomb when Mr. Incredible first discovers it, resulting in a new variation of that particular old chestnut? Why—and this one’s unforgivable, really—why don’t we see Mr. Incredible’s face peeking from behind that rock in the background in the middle panel on the next page, when the lion briefly wakes up? Why doesn’t the story make much more of Mr. Incredible’s attempt to bend the bars of the fence?

The answer to these questions (not the second one, though—that’s just a tragic oversight) is this: because it’s a 22-page story. And therein lies the rub. Unlike, say, Mike Kunkel’s Billy Batson & The Magic of Shazam! series over at DC Comics’ kids line, which sometimes has—to great effect!—up to 15 panels per page, The Incredibles: Family Matters wants to be a “big,” “decompressed” comic. Most pages don’t have more than four panels, and the story even indulges in the luxury of a double-page splash.

Which is fair enough in principle, but not for a 22-page comic, and most definitely not for a 22-page comic starring The Incredibles, where 99 percent of the appeal comes from watching how the characters’ faces and bodies react to whatever is going on in a given situation. In 22 pages per month, utilizing what’s come to be called “decompressed” storytelling,” you simply cannot do that. You can’t.

Right now, the book is visibly struggling to get all the plot in and still give the characters enough play. And, while there are plenty of moments showing that the creators have the right idea in a general sense, it’s still failing overall. In terms of plot, it’s all very well-constructed. On the final page, we get to a point that makes sense, in theory, and that would be a reasonable break-off point for any superhero story. But this isn’t any superhero story. It’s The Incredibles, a property that works for much different reasons—reasons which require much more storytelling space than they’re granted here.

This is a valiant stab at adapting The Incredibles to comics, and it fares better than a lot of adaptations do. And who knows, maybe the kids will love it, after all. To me, though, this is still disappointing, because it seems too flat by design—on its own terms and certainly compared to the film. This either needs to be ten times more economic with its storytelling space than it is right now, or it needs to be a series of original 96-page digests that give the characters the spotlight they deserve.

Grade: C+

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