Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Book Review: The Stand graphic novels

The Stand: Captain Trips
The Stand: American Nightmares
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Mike Perkins
Based on The Stand by Stephen King

Stephen King's The Stand is one of my favorite books of all time. It's one of those books that I go back to and reread from time to time. So I was excited when I heard about the new graphic novel adaptations from Marvel Comics, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and illustrated by Mike Perkins. I haven't read many graphic novels, but it's something that I've wanted to get more into, so I thought this would be a great opportunity. I wasn't disappointed.

Marvel is releasing the story in installments, first as comics, then as hardcover books collecting five comics in each hardcover. The first hardcover is The Stand: Captain Trips, and it tells the story of the spread of the deadly bio-engineered virus that comes to be known as Captain Trips. In the second hardcover, The Stand: American Nightmares, the survivors of the modern plague begin to travel, in search of help or other survivors, while being plagued by nightmares of a dark man.

One of the best things about the original book is the characters; there is a large and diverse cast of characters representing all aspects of humanity. Some of them you can't help but love, others are ambiguous, and others are strongly in the camp of darkness. Stephen King brings all these characters to vivid life, and The Stand is really the story of how these characters weather the crisis and the aftermath, and what choices they make in the larger battle between good and evil. Bringing these characters to visual life on the page had to be one of the biggest challenges for Aguirre-Sacasa, Perkins, and the team, and they succeeded brilliantly. As an appendix to the first book makes clear, the team gave much time and attention to getting the characters right, and I think it paid off. Most of the characters look pretty much the way I imagined them, although the characters on the dark side tend towards an exaggeration in appearance that isn't to my taste, but that is probably the norm in the comics genre.

The same attention to detail was applied to the locations, from the beautiful seaside town of Ogunquit, Maine, to the streets of New York City. The appendix to the second book explains how Mike Perkins traced Larry's route through New York City and took photographs, and how he used those photographs to create the panels in the book.

The graphic novel is very true to the book, and although the scenes are necessarily abbreviated, the pictures do much to fill in the details, as they should. I was particularly interested to see how they would handle the famous Lincoln Tunnel scene, one of the scariest scenes I've read in a book. Because much of what's frightening in that scene stems from the unseen, rather than what's actually seen, I was concerned that a visual adaptation would reduce the impact. However, Aguirre-Sacasa and Perkins accomplish this by alternating panels of Larry using his Bic lighter for light, with completely black panels when the lighter gets to hot to keep on. (And a few panels showing the things in Larry's imagination). For me, it didn't have quite the visceral impact of Stephen King's words, but it did a darn good job of creating an atmospheric, frightening scene.

The first two volumes of The Stand graphic novel are very well done, and are fast-paced, entertaining reads. The artwork does a beautiful job of bringing Stephen King's vision to life. Both fans of the original book and those who have never read it will enjoy these visual interpretations of the story. I look forward to reading the next installment, The Stand: Soul Survivors, when it is released in July.

Please note: the links above will take you to the books on Amazon.com. However, I strongly encourage you to visit your local independent comic book store and purchase them there.

FTC required disclosure: I purchased the books read for this review. The Amazon.com links above are Amazon Associate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.


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