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I read exactly the wrong thing a couple of years ago when I got a copy of Heart of Darkness. I was planning to read the Joseph Conrad story that inspired Apocalypse Now, but I didn’t realize that the book actually contained two Conrad stories, and started with his lesser-known short story The Secret Sharer. I was shocked by how much it turned me on.

The story is set a hundred-ish years ago aboard a ship; the captain, walking the deck alone, discovers a mysterious man in the sea and hauls him aboard, stowing him in his cabin without the rest of the crew’s knowledge. I read it as a story about furtive gay romance — this is almost certainly not even remotely Conrad’s intent — and became obsessed with the idea of adapting the story to a science fiction setting. I poked around with the plot every few weeks for over a year before I realized that everything I wanted from the story already existed in the original version, and that adding spaceships and lasers contributed nothing that Conrad hadn’t already written.

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I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to make an adaptation that was explicitly gay — the one thing that I was prepared to actually add to the text! — but sometimes it’s hard to know what you like about something until you’re no longer interested. Oh well.

A new comic out this week attempts to similarly adapt a Jules Verne story by transposing it from olden-times to future-times. I’m sure the authors saw something in the original work that they liked, and I wonder what it could have been, because whatever it was did not successfully complete the journey.

Other new comics this week have a bit more appeal: One is about a nocturnal sprint to save the world, and the other is about a cat. (As the T. S. Eliot poem goes, “O CAT!” Now that’s a sentiment that needs no adaptation, but here we are.) Thanks as always to Phoenix for helping to sort through this week’s extensive new releases!

JULES VERNE’S LIGHTHOUSE VOLUME 1


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I read this collection of Lighthouse issues right after attending a press screening of the new Dune, and after both, I had the same reaction: “Maybe I should read the book.” Lighthouse is based on a 1901 Jules Verne novel entitled The Lighthouse at the End of the World, set at a lone outpost in South America beset by pirates. The comic adapts that premise to outer space, which sounds like a fun idea; but unfortunately, the premise seems to be the only quality that is adapted. Page after page after page of premise! Characters discuss backstory and setup; they point off-camera and describe what they see; action happens in only the briefest of spurts. The names of the main characters of the Verne novel are translated to this new medium, but if they had much personality or passion in the original, it seems to have been left behind. The Lighthouse at the End of the World is certainly not one of Verne’s most famous works (it served as the basis of an unloved film adaptation in the 70s) but the bucket of concepts contained in this issue at least have me curious about the source material.

Rating: ⚓⚓ (2/5)

Authors: Brian Haberlin, David Hine. Artists: Brian Haberlin, Geirrod van Dyke

NOCTERRA VOLUME 1


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Imagine a world in which the sun vanished, and any living creature that goes for longer than a half-day in the dark transforms into a ferocious monstrosity — plants, animals, and most of all people. In this world, a once-blind trucker ferries survivors between illuminated outposts, fending off creatures and darkness, until one day she encounters two passengers with a connection to the terrible plight of the world. There’s a bit more philosophical poetry in this astonishing post-apocalyptic book than I would have liked; but the strength of the story is gripping enough to make it through the overwritten inner monologues. I’m reminded of the His Dark Materials series, particularly the stunning revelations of the second book — an adventure that seems like it will be purely action-driven pulp is revealed to have much deeper ideas. Alas, those ideas never quite seem to latch with the smashing plot. The result is a book that is often at war with itself, split between florid prose about the nature of good and evil versus riotous chases and shootouts. Either one would be a pleasure, but together, they seem to interrupt each other. Nevertheless, the book’s great fun, with particularly clever art that makes use of both darkness and light as weapons. And the villain of the piece is someone I’ll be thinking about for a long time, despite never truly seeing him.

Rating: 💡💡💡💡 (4/5)

Author: Scott Snyder. Artists: Tomeu Morey, Tony S. Daniel.

MARVEL MEOW


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A book that is as complicated and uncomplicated as a cat itself, Marvel Meow presents a series of mostly-wordless vignettes involving superheroes coping with Captain Marvel’s feline companion. Each page presents Chewie, a white purring menace, bringing chaos and love to familiar heroes: She chases a moth with Wolverine, steals a sausage from Spider-Man’s lunch, and sharpens her claws on Groot before chasing Rocket’s tail. Each page is utter comic delight, and a love letter both to Marvel characters and to cats in general. There’s no huge story here, no great conflict, no high stakes. Just prettily-drawn panels of familiar faces playing with and being gently defeated by a furry friend. Cats! They are very, very good. I thank the world for producing them, and artist Nao Fuji for producing this joyful tribute.

Rating: 🐈🐈🐈🐈🐈 (5/5)

Author and artist: Nao Fuji.

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ALSO: SABRINA RETURNS, STAN LEE’S LIFE STORY, and WITCHCRAFT IN THE OLD WEST

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Ah geez there’s a lot happening in comics this week! Immortal Hulk is ending, so now’s a great time to pick it up. Salt Magic looks completely fascinating, an old-west tale of witchcraft. There’s a lavish biography of Stan Lee out this week called With Great Power, and a new collection of Umbrella Academy issues. Too Tough to Die is an anthology of stories about aging punks; Lights, Planets, People is a gentle comic memoir about astronomy and mental health. Superhero enthusiasts, take heed of the new Batman Imposter series and the Young Diana special; this week is also the start of Batman Audio Adventures, based on the podcast of the same name. And! A new Star Wars: The High Republic series entitled Trail of Shadows. Finally, the Sabrina stories pick back up after a long long break during which the creators were busy with the TV show. WHEW.