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Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time: The Eye of the World #4

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Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time: The Eye of the World #4

Credits

  • Words: Robert Jordan & Chuck Dixon
  • Art: Chase Conley
  • Colors: Nicolas Chapuis
  • Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
  • Price: $3.99
  • Release Date: Aug 11, 2010

I’ve been reading both comic books and fantasy series since I was a wee lad and I’d always wondered why publishers rarely took the opportunity to marry the two media in a significant way. On the surface, the realms of fantasy and mainstream comics seem destined for a glorious marriage yet until very recently the focus has always been on the superhero. Sure, most comics are dependant on fantasy to some degree but what we think of as high fantasy has for the most part been relegated to the role of a plot device in most mainstream comics.

A little older now, I understand more about the business of making comics and why publishers make their decisions. Still, it’s always bothered me a bit that Advanced Dungeons and Dragons is the first title that comes to mind when I think of high fantasy comics. Most of the fantasy comics I did come across never resonated with the same deep sense of epic adventure and richly developed worlds as a well-written fantasy novel.

When high fantasy and comics are combined in the form of an adaptation, I would argue the onus on the publishers and creators to build a believable secondary world is even greater. The creative team behind Dynamite’s Wheel of Time series takes this duty very seriously. Having followed the series since its inception, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Chuck Dixon and Chase Conley revel and thrive in their source material, bringing Robert Jordan’s massively popular fantasy series to the mainstream comic book market.

In previous reviews, I’ve spent a good chunk of time celebrating Dixon’s brilliant storytelling choices and respectful treatment of Jordan’s world. Not that I didn’t consider Conley’s contribution to the storytelling – I did, though mainly through an appreciation of his layouts and character designs. This issue really brought home the extent of Conley’s contribution to the success of the entire series, though.

Like a lot of fantasy series, Jordan’s is chock full of visual imagery and character introspection. Often this doesn’t translate well to comics due to the space constraints of the standard episodic format and a far heavier reliance on visual storytelling. Novelists have all the time and space in the world to develop their characters and settings. This, I believe, is most difficult hurdle to leap in trying to create a fully realized fantasy tale in the comics medium.

It’s also a hurdle Conley clears with ease, flair, and maturity. Out of necessity, Dixon must rely heavily on Conley’s ability to recreate the rich visual and cultural tapestry of Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. This he largely accomplishes through atmospheric, detailed settings and wise panel configurations.

Just as important in developing Jordan’s vast setting for comics is the knack for relating emotion and complex, often unspoken motivations, clearly and concisely. Conley excels in communicating the tone and mood of a scene with subtle facial expressions and varied camera angles to accentuate the melodrama so important to high fantasy in general and absolutely integral to a work the size and scope of The Wheel of Time.

There’s no way Dixon could have packed all of the unique characteristics of the source material into the script without becoming mired in exposition and dialogue. Conley pulls his weight supremely well, filling in the empty spaces on the map with real emotional weight and beautifully realized settings.

Nowadays, there seem to be an ever-increasing number of fantasy comics on the shelves of my local comic shop. It’s refreshing to see different genres other than superhero fare in the mainstream market but I still pass them over, after a quick skim, confirming my suspicion of a lack of opera.

Not so with Dynamite and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Thanks in large part to Conley’s uncanny ability to recreate the tone and atmosphere of the source material and preserve its inherent melodrama, WOT continues to be a series of genuine passion, technical virtuosity, and grand, epic adventure.

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Comments

  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg Aug 13, 2010 at 4:10pm

    I think you're being a little unfair to fantasy comics. There have been some gems. Dark Horse's Conan is consistently good. Bone had the epic scope, adventure, and developed world of a fantasy novel. Devil's Due's Forgotten Realms comics were quite enjoyable. Mouse Guard is very well done. Red Sonja has its moments (though it's very much in Conan's shadow).

    I haven't read The Wheel of Time novels so I'm not real familiar with that world. I tried the earlier comic version by Dabel Brothers and found it incredibly slow and boring. Sounds as though this one is an improvement though.

  • Jason Wilkins

    Jason Wilkins Aug 13, 2010 at 8:37pm

    I knew somebody would mention Mouse Guard when I wrote that line :) And you have a valid point. I would argue though, that for every Mouse Guard and Bone there's a score of Conans and Red Sonjas, which despite gorgeous artwork, don't give me that same epic feeling and richness of geography, culture, and theme. I realize Conan's world is a well-developed, functional fictional universe. It's just that Conan's world always felt like more of a pure plot device than a living, breath place I could escape to. Which in turn made the characters feel rather one-dimensional. Or maybe that should be the other way around (or not, I don't know).

    I think it depends at the end of the day on what one considers high fantasy and for my money, the Conan properties lack the emotional weight and thematic sophistication I've come to cherish from writers like Tolkien and Lewis, not to mention more recent authors like George RR Martin and Jordan.

    What I really crave over adaptations are more original works such as Mouse Guard, though...

  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg Aug 14, 2010 at 1:15am

    I suppose that's a fair criticism of Conan. I do see a richness of geography and culture in his world (I find Hyboria pretty fascinating) but not as much in terms of theme and character. I love the comic but it does boil down to big muscle guy fighting wizards and demons much of the time. I just bought the first volume of the original Howard stories so I'll be interested to see whether there is more development in the source material.

    Definitely wouldn't say no to more original fantasy works in comics. I agree with you there. It's my favorite genre.

  • Jason Wilkins

    Jason Wilkins Aug 14, 2010 at 9:58am

    I'm with you on Hyboria for the most part. I can't remember where I saw it (long time ago) but I remember a cool map that attempted to show the vastness of Conan's world and it was one of those things that really lured me to Conan for a while. I just found that it was missing that little something extra. I think this may be due to Conan's pulpier roots. Howard was coming at his characters in Conan from a different POV than say academics like Tolkien and Lewis who were trying to create a British mythology to rival the Norse and Greco-Roman pantheons in a lot of ways. Different goals, each just as valuable in its way as the other. For my money though, I like a bit more meat on my plate, than what Conan offers.

    Do you remember Brandon Peterson's Arcanum? I never got around to picking that up but it looked somewhat intriguing for original fantasy. I've actually been looking for that and a series by Phil Jimenez I can't remember the name of right now. There's been a couple of solid attempts over the years at fantasy comics - just not enough for my liking. I'm greedy that way :) because like you it seems, I'm more partial to fantasy and magic realist stuff more than horror or sci-fi (though I like them too).

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 14, 2010 at 11:55am

    CrossGen did a ton of good stuff in that area - MERIDIAN being my absolute fave.

  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg Aug 14, 2010 at 12:40pm

    Is the Phil Jimenez series called Otherworld? I read that one. It wasn't that great. Beautiful visuals but I barely remember anything about the story. And it got canceled early so he didn't get to develop his ideas that much.

  • Jason Wilkins

    Jason Wilkins Aug 14, 2010 at 1:16pm

    Yeah it was Otherworld I believe. And I agree with Andy on Meridian - bought the first trade for my niece and she loved it. Still asks about it too. Same with Abazadad - brilliant stuff. The other Crossgen fantasy stuff I wasn't to partial to. Sojourn despite the great art, seemed like Tolkien Light. I think my major complaint about the sigilverse was that it was that it felt a little forced. Lots of detail and strong storytelling but it was sort of hard to figure out where it all fit together. Each of there books seemed like they might stand well enough on their own, within their own fully-realized worlds - Meridian being a prime example of that. Maybe if it was a little more streamlined. Ah, lookit me though, trying to have my cake and eat it too. Maybe I'm being a little to picky :)

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