Monday, April 18, 2016

TV/Movie Tie-Ins, Part XI: A Game of Thrones #1-5

Winter is coming…just very, very slowly
SPOILERS for season one. But you should know that…right?

I became a huge George R. R. Martin fan because of Roger Zelazny.

Zelazny is a science fiction and fantasy author and a pretty good one. Don't take my word for it! Take the fact that he won three Nebula awards (out of 14 nominations) and six Hugo awards (also out of 14 nominations.)

I encountered Zelazny when I was in high school, through a work of his called "Creatures of Light and Darkness." It was a thin paperback that told the tale of the Egyptian pantheon fighting it out in the far flung future, the main duel coming down between Thoth and a malevolent entity called the Thing That Cries in The Night. I sat enraptured after reading it. I know it was at that moment that I became a fan of Zelazny's work.

And like any fan, I sought out his stuff.

In his short story collections, Zelazny would leave forwards and afterwards to each story. In one such story, he mentioned when his good friend George R. R. Martin, having read the story that preceded the blurb, stated that Zelazny would win a Hugo for it. And Martin was right.

During my college years, I bumped into a fellow at the local comic shop who insured Martin would be more than just a name for me. He spoke of Marvel's "New Universe" titles (Patience, we'll get to them later) and how they were just a rip-off of Martin's "Wild Card" series. 

Wild Cards was a series of superhero novels written in anthology format by Martin and various author friends of his. Martin served as editor and setup the framework of this universe, allowing others to come in and write stories that used it as their setting. Zelazny was one of the contributors. 

I was still on my Zelazny kick at the time. So I snatched up all six of the Wild Card books available back then as soon as I could. 

Great stuff, by the way. Especially Martin's stories, which revolved around a telekinetic superhero known as The Turtle whose power could be disrupted if he lost concentration, so he fashioned an armored shell out of a VW Bug with cameras and electronics. Using that as a flying platform, he swooped around a decimated New York fighting crime.

Neat, inventive stuff.

When A Game of Thrones came out I heard all the buzz. Knowing Martin as I did by then, I made blind recommends to all my friends, buying the books but not reading them and shelving them for myself. 

I admit to an odd book habit: I try NOT to read any series that is finite in length until the final book is out. I hate getting into a book series only to then move to the next book of a different series. I get confused at who these characters are when I come back. I like to immerse myself in them and their universe.

After the third book came out and people who I recommended the books to kept coming back thanking me and telling me how good they were…I broke down and read them. All of them. And as soon as the next came out, I read that one too. It became a thing for me.

Martin has a masterpiece on his hands.

He just needs to finish it. His pacing is a bit slow in the last book, but whatever. I will forgive one whole book in a series this good. Even at its slow points, I couldn't put the book down. But it lacks an ending. It lacks those last two books. And he's had us hanging on for more than three years now.

If it had just been the books, the effect A Game of Thrones had would be limited to a small subset of people. But then HBO took a gamble on a series…and the whole thing exploded in popularity.

The secret was sex. Not that the books shied away from showing sex. It is without a doubt the most graphic of any true fantasy novel series I've yet to encounter. And by "true fantasy" I mean as opposed to a romance or erotica set in a fantasy world.

For more on the TV series, check out the Honest Trailer for seasons one through three HERE. For an outstanding podcast hosted by some great folks, give Liberty Street Geek's Dean and Jessica a try. They only have season 5 up due to a computer issue, but their commentary is concise, entertaining and chock full of great insight.

Characters in Martin's epic lived in a way that felt authentic. Part of those lives included lots and lots of naked bedroom romps. So their inclusion in the HBO series was a given. HBO however decided to up the stakes for that first season a bit.

Got a character that likes to sleep around a bit? Introduce him by showing him bedding two naked prostitutes in his very first scene. Got a hot frightened princess who is vulnerable? Show her bathing naked before being given away to a barbarian horse lord. Need to introduce the idea of brother-sister incest? Show them doing it doggie style in full view of a kid and make it as graphic as possible without turning this into a porno. Something takes place in a brothel? Cue LOTS of topless, sexy women to just walk around, because..."brothel."

HBO took every chance it could to play up the sexual elements in the novel that first season.

And guess what? It worked. The series became THE watercooler show and has continued to be so even though subsequent seasons haven't been as graphic.

Well played, HBO. 

But all silver linings have their dark clouds and for HBO the devil was in the details. Lots and lots of details. Many, many details. You don't boil a 1,000 page novel down to 10 episodes without cutting a scene here or there. And while I would state the show is pretty faultless in what does make it onscreen, there is a whole quarter of a book per season that doesn't make it on.

Sadly the slow pace of Martin's writing and the exquisite goodness of the show has lead me to watch the entire thing. Now in Season 7, we are about to enter virgin territory…parts of the story that Martin hasn't released…and that means the book will likely get spoiled by the show.

In ways, it already has. Certain sections of the novels have been left out entirely, leading you to believe that this part or that part that you THOUGHT might be important later, are actually just red herrings. Want an example? Theon Greyjoy's sister is off at sea with a bandit captain on a journey that I thought was leading up to a big reveal. Well, their boat might as well sink for as much airtime as the series has given them.

Then there is this, a comic book based upon either the book or the TV show or something in between. It fills the niche for those who can't afford HBO but are too lazy to read, I suppose. Or for those who are buying every collectible around the show that marketing can produce.

What do I make of it? The art is decent and the story follows more the television show than the books. It is agonizingly decompressed, which is the modern world for long and drawn out. We don't get to the spectacular 'gotcha' ending of the first EPISODE until mid-way through the third book, meaning that each season's ten episodes would expand out to 25 issues or more, making one season over two years' worth of comics.

At $3.99 a pop, that also amounts to a whopping $100 per season, meaning you could skip the comic book altogether, pay for a subscription to HBO, watch the entire six seasons on in a year's time, and save yourself somewhere in the range of $450. 

And after that, you could watch The Wire too.

Not to mention you'd be finished in less than the 8+ years it would take you to catch up to where the season is NOW.

It is a completely unnecessary thing. I'll point out the good and bad bits here and return these back to the Crapbox.

It was odd to finish the first issue with no hint of nudity. I'd been so conditioned to think naked flesh whenever GoT is mentioned that it was hard to separate the two in my mind. I got to the end and thought something was missing.

What else was missing was good art. Okay, it's not horrible art, but it definitely isn't what I would pick for this series. Most pages look like fan art pieces and on the whole, the book suffers because of this. Characters look like Jon Snow above, rendered with far too much 3-D light and shadow.

Sort of like a children's book...

One with blood, guts, and boobs. 

At least we get to them in issue two. Ned and Cat have a chat in bed and it was so…odd. Mainly because they were talking about everything BUT sex and the topics made you completely forget they were naked.

That is the ONE thing that is spot on with these. Whatever bits of George R. R. Martin's book makes it on the page reminds you of how excellent he is at plotting and dialogue. There is just so much good in it that even a shell such as this makes excellent reading.

Character introduction is generally handled well, although I don't remember Tyrion being able to jump around like Yoda at the end of Attack of the Clones. 

At least I could understand why HBO introduced him with the hookers. It informed us that Tyrion was 1.) a lover not a fighter, 2.) lonely and 3.) that he shared a close bond with his brother from the interplay between the two of them when he is found.

This makes me think he is an agile fighter, and while Tyrion later proves he can handle himself in a fight, it usually is a hard fought thing, not this devil-may-care, Errol Flynn crap.

This picture of Jon seems also to come from one of those children's books I mentioned earlier. I can't tell if I love it or hate it yet, but I have to throw it out there for everyone to gawk at.

The infamous "things I do for love" scene is well played.

But the "Daenerys likes sex now" bit is so rushed that it is almost comical.

No..No..YES! She changed her tune awfully quick. Way to play hard-to-get, Dee.

I don't want to say that I hated every panel of art. There are a few that almost get me swept up in the grandeur of Westeros. Like this panel of Eddard and Robert speaking on the Kings Road.

Almost as majestic as his herald animal. Also there's a bit with Catherine Stark defending Bran that I thought was quite good. Very edge-of-your-seat type stuff.

By issue six, the book appears to have hit its stride with sequences like this bit with loverboy Joffery facing Arya.

But sadly the book is also following the TV show's lead when it comes to including scenes and characters. Gone is the Jenny Poole subplot, which in the books has just barely played out and the lack of her inclusion leads me to believe that there isn't much hope of this being any more than a loose interpretation of the TV show and not the better, more involving novels they are both based off of.

I guess that is one good thing, the books will remain the sole best place to hear this story. If you think the TV show or comic book are great then you really owe it to yourself to check out the source material. Because the story you don't hear is far, far better than the one you do.

Now off you go for Season Seven! Winter is coming, you know?

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