Thursday, September 21, 2006

I bought the first volume of an OEL comic called Ravenskull based on this review and the first dozen or so pages that the publisher maintains online here. The notion of a the Dracula Tapes-style continuation of Ivanhoe featuring the villain of that piece & the semi-tragic heroine struck my fancy.

I'd never actually read Ivanhoe before, but with a library within walking distance that was a problem easily remedied, and I read a library copy while waiting for Amazon to get around to shipping the comic. For those of you who've never read the Sir Walter Scott novel, it's essentially a nineteenth-century Marty Stu rehash of the Richard the Lionhearted/Robin Hood stories, with a lot of bollocks about Saxons and Normans and a tone peculiarly stretched between that of Scott's contemporary Romantics and the previous generation's skepticism and cynicism. As a romance, Ivanhoe is about four-fifths of a really great book, but the last fragment lets it kind of fall apart. Scott lets himself get pulled in different directions, and never can really decide whether he's writing tragedy or comedy, including bits of both, undigested and sitting side-by-side like Susquehanna valley rock formations. The best sections are those eventually-orphaned tragic moments, such as Ulrica's death-song immolation & the turret-top debate between the unbelieving cynic and false Templar Brian de Bois-Guilbert and the Jewess Rebecca of York, his captive and object of obsession.

In the end, Scott drops the tantalizing suggestion that he was going to make a Miltonian project of Sir Brian's monumental pride and self-will, and lets him expire in a rather deflating and unheroic fashion in the climax, thus committing in the end to a sort of comedy. Rebecca, easily the most admirable and noble character in the book, is saved from a witch's incineration, only to be summarily drop-kicked out of the story into a Jewish form of nunnery which I strongly suspect is a product entire of Scott's overheated (or possibly overtaxed) imagination, leaving the rest of the ending to the less substantial, duller heroine & hero & numerous clowns and supporting characters.

I can easily see why Ivanhoe would attract authors of fanfic & glorified doujinshi, in which category I'd place Ravenskull. The dynamic of Rebecca and Sir Brian *screams* for a good het-slashing, the tension is palatable, and their respective endings so perfunctory as to almost demand a good re-write. In fact, I suspect if I dig around, I could find in the depths of literature and fanfiction some two or three examples of what I expected, based on the introduction, Ravenskull to be. A grand, baroque, dark, thoroughly Romantic spasm - self-sacrifice, guilt, witchcraft, a re-gendered Eurydice and Orpheus - a rich vein of deep potential, indeed.

It's rather a shame that Ravenskull isn't that story.

Oh, the art's there - a little shoujo-generic at times, there's something not quite right about the eyes at certain points, the occasional slight SD affection is off-tone for the material - but overall, for OEL pseudo-manga, it's quite good. The bizarre choice to mimic the Japanese style to the extent of following the unflopped back-to-front layout is, however, rather off-putting. You people aren't Japanese, this story wasn't scripted in that language, no-one involved seems to be Japanese, the source material is the product of a pre-Victorian Scotsman - stop trying to pretend otherwise!

But really, the problem with the comic is in the writing. I suspect the writer has no essential grasp of character conflict. The essential and sustaining conflict of any story based on the Rebecca of York and Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert presented by Sir Walter Scott ought to be romantic tension. The text of Ivanhoe offers a Rebecca who explicitly despises her suitor, and a Bois-Guilbert who is enraged by his inability to rearrange the world and his love-object in line with his self-image and cynicism. The entire emotional journey of a proposed sequel based on their relationship ought to be between that impasse and the eventual resolution of happiness or self-destruction, or possibly both at once, in the spirit of Scott's own depiction of Ulrica's deathsong, perhaps. This particular journey is completed by the writer of Ravenskull in the first third of the first volume, at break-neck speed, skipping many steps, in a dream-fugue depiction of the road to hell.

Having broken the neck of romantic conflict like a farmwife breaking that of a chicken destined for the soup-pot, the writer then goes on to address what he apparently prefers - artificial divides between already-committed lovers and RPG-style macguffin hunts & generic indestructible villains of the most generic sort. You can see the artist struggling with the material handed him by the writer, and making the best of a bad script. But it wasn't really what I had signed on for, and I rather object to the bait-and-switch. I found myself re-writing on the fly, which is always a sign that the authors have lost me.

Such a shame. I really would have liked to have read the book in my mind, the anticipated story rather than the one delivered. Oh, well.

No comments: