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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull #1

Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2008
By: Jon Judy

John Jackson Miller
Luke Ross & Fabio Laguna
Dark Horse Comics
Hoboy.

I am just unsure about how to review this comic book. I was nervous when I got the assignment because I was afraid I’d view it through nostalgia-colored lenses, leading me to perceive it as better than it was.

If I’m perceiving this comic book to be better than it actually is, it’s quite possibly the worst comic book of all time. I don’t think it’s that bad, but it’s bad.

My second concern about reviewing this comic book was that I wouldn’t know exactly how to review an adaptation. There are flaws in this comic book that I can only attribute to the fact that it is an adaptation and not a stand-alone project. So, for example, when there is something absolutely moronic in the film’s story, it must be reflected in this book. And trust me, there are some elements in the film that are absolutely moronic. I don’t want to go into spoilers here, so for those of you who have not seen it, let me just say it could have been called Indiana Jones and the Divinely Powered Refrigerator, No, Seriously, You Will Never Need Another Fridge After You See What This One Can Do, although that is a bit of a mouthful.

That this is an adaptation is also problematic in that Miller has to squeeze a whole lot of film into this little package. Thus he significantly compresses story time, usually via long captions that explain scene transitions and keep the story moving, which is necessary but nevertheless makes for a horrific read. So, for just a couple of examples, the relatively entertaining “magnetic sequence” from the opening of the film is reduced to five boring panels here, and the discovery of the Russian’s desired object – which should be all slow and mysterious in the reveal – gets a half splash, a reaction panel, and two exposition-y captions.

I understand why Miller told the story this way – he had to in order to squeeze the entire story in – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a painfully dreadful read as a result.

Even worse when it comes to compression, Miller often has to sacrifice the fun action sequences, which are a tremendous part of the appeal of Indiana Jones. The chase sequence on the college campus, for example, gets reduced to three panels showing three distinct phases of the chase – including one that didn’t make the film – instead of a series of panels depicting causes and effects, which would have taken several pages but would have more clearly conveyed a sense of action. Another example: the trip to Nazca and Oxley’s cell is reduced to three panels and five captions.

In short, this comic reads like a summary of a story, not like a story.

On the other hand, the art runs the gamut from decent to fantastic – so it’s inconsistent but never bad – and if you’re a truly hardcore Indy fan, you may want to pick it up just to look at it.

But I don’t suggest reading it. The aforementioned criticisms aside – the abbreviation of the plot is, after all, understandable if not lamentable – Miller’s writing is… lacking, if I am to be kind.

I can only assume he was going for a retro vibe of his own, attempting to channel all of those Marvel movie adaptations of yesteryear. Given the project, that’s not a bad idea. It’s downright appropriate to look to earlier, nostalgia-inducing comics when adapting a property that’s all about paying homage to earlier, nostalgia-inducing films. But whereas the Indy films pay tribute to old serials while simultaneously taking advantage of their bigger budgets and modern movie-making savvy to produce something that is affectionate towards the past while thoroughly modern, Miller just channels the rushed, hack quality that was often on display in those adaptations of old. Thus we get captions like “Leaving his bullwhip and fedora behind – along with that lingering doubt from the past – Indy sets a course for his future… not knowing that future is about to take a turn!” Oh, no! His future is going to turn! I mean, his future is going to…turn! Got to get those ellipses in there. We’re also treated to lots of captions that give us completely unnecessary information, such as when we are told “Having seen the brilliant Oxley reduced to madness, Indy’s skepticism about the skull’s power crumbles quickly!” Yes, well, the next seven panels clearly convey that crumbling skepticism visually, so what purpose does the caption serve? Wait, I mean…the caption serves no purpose! Got to get those ellipses and unnecessary exclamation points in there.

Bottom line: This comic book tries to squeeze too much movie into too few pages, and aims for old school, nostalgic writing but misses, producing not nostalgia but a thoroughly unpleasant reading experience. If you’re the world’s biggest Indy fan, you might want to pick it up. However, if you’re the world’s biggest Indy fan, you might also be appalled by what you see.



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