Apr 22, 2015

The 40 Years of Comics Project: Day 57 - Marvel Treasury Special - 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1976


As I placed yesterday's comic back into the storage collection, I noticed that Kirby's 2001 was next up sequentially. I thought it behooved me then to read his adaptation of the film first, originally published as an over-sized tabloid treasury edition. I have to say, the format really works nicely for Kirby's art. In the final section there are some gigantic splash-pages as Bowman travels through the Monolith (I'm going to assume that there's a familiarity amongst my readers with the basic premise of the movie. It's almost 50 years old, so I think we're beyond spoiler territory).

We're all familiar with the notion of Kirby's hyper-kinetic artwork, his larger-than-life characters and movements, but to see it in a format that is larger-than-(comic)life is quite a treat. The above image measures about 13.5 inches by 20 inches (sorry, I only had an imperial ruler handy), so it's huge. Not that this means Kirby adds more detail to the picture. We could imagine this as a regular-sized splash page, or even a panel, and it would still have the same level of detail. The larger size simply allows us to be more fully-immersed in the visual dimension of the story. And, especially at this late stage in the narrative, the visual dimension is vitally important.

I have to admit, before dealing with the adaptation, that it's been decades since I've either seen the film or read the book. However, and probably those of you familiar with the movie will agree, it's not something that you forget. There's a reason that this is one of the great science fiction films of all time. That said, Kirby's adaptation is not quite the most faithful of adaptations. He spends a lot of time with the proto-humans at the beginning of the story, more than is present in the film. There are certainly shades of the themes he will investigate in Devil Dinosaur present here, and perhaps working on this project was the impetus he needed for that short-lived and too often ignored gem. Kirby also lays out for us his own interpretation of some of the mystery of the film. While the story is ostensibly about an alien influence on the evolution of humankind, the Monolith in the film is ascribed little to no agency. It simply stands. In Kirby's version of the story, it makes noise that draws the humans in. In his inimitable style, what in the film is a stark, matte slab of blackness becomes a surface filled with movement, though one reads the movement as the almost aetheric swirl of energies that must be present in this mysterious object. Further, once engaged, Kirby's version of the Monolith spews forth light and energy. Again, we can perhaps read this as a more spiritual light and energy than a purely physical one. Kirby's prose at the points where humans (and, it should be pointed out, seemingly only men) encounter the monolith careens off into his typically hyperbolic style, but in terms of the story, of the physical and spiritual evolution of the species, it works in an evangelistic kind of way. Perhaps there are things that can only be spoken about hyperbolically.

I think the biggest difference between this adaptation and the film it adapts is movement. 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film, is slow, not only in the pacing of the story, but in all the movement that happens on the screen. It is set in the airless, gravity-less, isolated realm of interplanetary space, where quiet reigns. Conversely, Kirby's version of the story, as I noted above, is kinetic. There is movement everywhere, on every page. The comic in no way gives us the sense of slowness and quiet that the film does. It instead gives us what seems to be a headlong rush to fulfillment of the Monolith's purpose, a process that, thanks to Kirby's art, speeds across the 4 million years of the story in a matter of minutes (pages?). Thus, it's a very different take on the same story, but that's the important thing to note, that it's telling the same story. Nowhere does it veer off into anything other than a tale about the evolution of humanity. As such, though it is vastly different from the visual presentation of its source material, the narrative is unchanged. The idea of adaptation is a fascinating one in comics studies, and adaptations can be either completely faithful or completely different, or anywhere between those two points. The success of an adaptation is what it brings to the source material, and how well it cleaves to the fundamentals of that material. In this, I think 2001: A Space Odyssey the comic is quite successful.

The biggest difference, though, is the promise of further tales at the end of the story. Though this is implicit in the ending of the film, in the comic we actually have a chance to see what happens next....though some of the stories that come out of the short-lived series happen prior, as we will see. I'll do the first two issues of the series over the next couple of days, and then day 60 will be one of my favourite comics, though I'm not sure which one yet.

See you tomorrow.

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