Thursday, May 21, 2009

Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time #00 : Dragonmount - A Review

Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, issue #00 (April 2009): Dragonmount

Publisher: Ernst Dabel, for The Dabel Brothers
Adaptation: Chuck Dixon
Artwork: Chase Conley
Cover art: Chase Conley; alternate cover art by Mike S. Miller
Colours: Nicolas Chapuis
Editors: Ernst Dabel & Rich Young
Project Manager: Derek Ruiz

A Review

By Dominic

The wait for this one has been long, very long. With the generally amazing adaptation of New Spring The Novel by the Dabel Brothers in 2005, we were many to salivate over the hints that an adaptation of the novels in the main series was forthcoming. And then, the bad news came. Red Eagle Entertainment cancelled the publication of New Spring after five issues (but thankfully, publication of the three last issues is to resume this month, this time without the involvement of REE), delaying the Dabels' and Robert Jordan's plans to develop the adaptation of The Eye of the World until options on the rights lapsed and a fresh new deal could be made by the DB and the Jordan succession. And of cours in the interim we very sadly lost Jim Rigney himself, whose involvement in the adaptation process made a visual retelling of his series all the more interesting.

But that was then, this is now. A while ago, the sympathetic Ernst from DB peddled around the WOT fansites a series of tantalizing pages from the prologue issue of the adaptation and to answer a few fans' questions. The 'real deal' finally arrived at the comic shop. Buying comics, waiting each month for a new part of the story, is a cool experience, as I rediscovered with New Spring in 2005. It makes you feel like a kid again, waiting for the next Star Wars episode and all that. Funny to think it the days of Alexandre Dumas, people used to experience novels this way, a chapter with each issue. With an adaptation of a beloved and re read series, you get the best of both worlds: the fun side of serials is present, and the frustrating wait to get know the story is absent, as you already know it by rote.

Comic book/graphic novels is in my view an excellent medium to adapt a series like the Wheel of Time. As a rule, dialogues and exposition are kept to the essentials, the artwork conveying most of the story. And yet, unlike cinematographic adaptations, less sacrifices are usually necessary and big changes in the dramatic structure are avoided while movies have their own language and pace, not always compatible with books. Comics are more evocative and, IMO, less intrusive for fans than movies, especially when they are bad or lacking budget, or dumbing down the original material too much, or introducing massive changes for a general audience not familiar with the booké Comics and graphic novels leave a lot more to the reader's imagination while expanding the experience with visual renditions, and do not intrude as much on the mental images evoked by the original book, the way movies tend to do - and they still let you read for yourself at your own pace, with the inner voices you give the characters, without the intrusion of actors, most often compromises for your mental images. The limits are those of the penciller's talent, without the constraints of acting or visual FX (limitations I experience all too often as a VFX designer myself). Gone are problems with recurrent minor cast and all as well, they manage in general to be more faithful to the letter and spirit of a novel than most movies do (as you can imagine, I'm fairly indifferent to the movie project by REE/Universal).

So, how does 'Dragonmount' lives up to my expectations? Fairly well, for the most part. The prologue issue combines the original prologue of The Eye of the World with the new introduction chapter Earlier - Ravens (mispelled as Raven in the Comic) Jordan had written especially for the Young Adult edition of The Eye of the World. Ravens had an Egwene POV and brought us back a few years, when Egwene was nine and carrying drinking water at the Shearing. It introduced many of the villagers and the main cast as kids, as essentially the chapter was meant to introduce at an age closer to that of the target audience of tt edition, and offered a more explicit, less mysterious and more accessible introduction to Lews Therin and The Sealing, via a story told by Tam.

It flirts with inconsistencies in places, but in the book version it was still mildly interesting, if only for the insight into the perpection of the characters RJ wanted the reader to have at this point, made a lot more explicit in this chapter for younger readers.

The Dabel Brothers chose to have Raven(sic) precede and lead into the main prologue Dragonmount, which works fairly well as it is set in the aftermath of the Sealing.

Chuck Dixon, adaptator of New Spring, is back with his fairly fluid adaptation style, that in most places manages to carry really quite well the essence of Jordan's story. In this medium, Jordan's descriptive writing style is of course more evoked by the artwork than the text. In the scenes that were not cut from the adaptation, Dixon did a good job preserving the feeling of the novel. Of course, with 22 pages to work with, a lot of scenes and details are gone, especially in Ravens, where the sections with the women and with Nynaeve are missing from the adaptation (which is a bit disappointing). Hard choices, as neither Dragonmount nor Ravens had enough material for a full issues, yet my feeling is that both could have used 2-3 additional pages. Dragonmount, for the most part, misses only some iconic lines of dialogue. With a chapter of the series that has near legendary status among the fans, it was not an easy challenge to trim it down - but it's one thing that's great with comics - with an half decent memories, you can fill the gaps and missing lines while looking at the artwok. Overall, Dixon is doing well. I'm eager to see how well he will do with RJ's humour and main cast interactions.

We had a very good idea of the art direction the DB team had taken for The Eye of the World with the B&W and full-colours previews the Dabels released. The printed version offer the same vibrant, often impressionist, colouring by N. Chapuis. It evokes well the more cheerful and summery ambiance of the Shearing, and should offer a nice contrast to the upcoming bleak mood of the first chapters.

The first issues of New Spring were pencilled by the excellent Mike S. Miller, with his precise and detailed style. Miller was succeeded by Carlos Rafael for issue #5, with a little less success. For the Eye of the World, The Dabels have picked Chase Conley. Conley has a fairly different style, more evocative and less realistic. His character design a little more stylized but interesting. I'm eager to see his young adult renditions of the main cast - Mat and Egwene so far are really good, and quite compatible with my mental images of these two. Perrin and Rand works well too. Tam is a bit too young for the character, but Bran is funny.

Conley's pencilling is more suggestive of movement than Miller's, and what he loses in place in details he gains in scene dynamism. The layout is generally good, with very few confusing cells (there is one page with the boys in particular, the character design isn't distinctive enough to make out who's who - I had to follow memories of the book to figure it out and even to guess how many of the boys were actually involved). I got the feeling Conley went off model here and there, especially in the Dragonmount section, but I'll get used to them with more issues. Better or not for Wheel of Time than Miller? It's pretty much a matter of taste, I guess. The character scenes work really well for me here, but I'll be keeping an eye out for the locations in future issues. Conley had not much to work with in this issue, with the quiet meadow and Lews Therin's barely described palace. Miller's shoes are big to fill for Jordan's cities and iconic locations, like the Amyrlin's office and the streets of Tar Valon. His work really shone there in New Spring, and I'm quite eager to see how well Chase Conley will do with his very different style. Faithful and evocative renditions of costumes and locales are a big part of the interest of such an adaptation, at least when the writer is Robert Jordan.

Overall, Raven is an interesting piece and an excellent, cheerful, rendition of the Two Rivers environment in happier and sunnier days. The 'feeling' of this location is definitely there. The missing scenes with the women, Egwene's sisters and Nynaeve and Mistress Barran, her Wisdom mentor, are a bit of a disappointement and the themes of the original chapter lost quite a bit of strength with these omissions. Dixon and Conley still managed to fit in some of the 'little details' that increase the 'RJ feel', such as the big shepherd dogs. The whole scene with them isn't there, but the nod is a nice little touch. Hopefully, they will keep an eye out for these as they really add something, the little touches that make it 'Wheel of Time' for me (well, not so much the bloody dog as such, but readers of WOT know what I mean).

Dragonmount itself is a bit more hit and miss for me. Starting with the hit, I really like the character design for Ishamael, which is fairly similar to the design created by Miller for the wallpapers released through Dragonmount a few years ago. Dixon did a good job adapting his dialogue as well. Some lines will be missed by many, though, I suspect. The rendition of the Age of Legends is more of a miss. I don't think Conley fully managed to convey the retro-futuristic ambiance of this era, though I must admit Jordan himself didn't, or chose to hide it, in the prologue. The full palace is nicer than I found it after having seen only the cover, but a touch here and there of futuristic technology, even as easter eggs, would have been nice. I'm not too impressed with the character design and costume for Lews Therin Telamon. Between the long hair, the bits of armor and the fur cape, he evokes more the maddened barbarian than the elegant and peaceful but dishevelled and insane character described by Jordan. Thankfully, there will be very few Age of Legends scenes and this should be the last, or so, we see Lews Therin. There will be many gripes with liberties taken with Traveling, I bet. The ornate gateway didn't bug me much, but I'm not a big One Power fan. On another note, I was a bit surprised the connection to the Erinin and Tar Valon, fairly explicit in the book if not by name, is absent in the adaption. I really expected this image, somehow.

To conclude, Dragonmount is a tantalizing teaser for what's to come. It is fairly different visually from New Spring, and it remains to be seen if the new art direction will succeed as well in evoking Jordan's world, but issue #00 is definitely a good start, with a nice glimpse into the Two Rivers and the main cast as youngsters, and a prologue fairly faithful and satisfying, even if the art direction for this part is more debatable. The printing quality and paper are somewhat lower than what was used for New Spring, but in the current economical climate it's a fairly relative issue.

Issue #00, Dragonmount is available in stores and from the Dabel Brothers now, and will be collected next year into the first Eye of the World graphic novel. IRRC what Ernst told us at wotmania a while ago, the EOTW comics are expected to have a 36-issue run.

Cover Art Image: © 2009, Dabel Brothers Productions LLC

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