Tuesday, September 02, 2008

North Wind: The Movie on Paper -- a guest post from Vanja

The following is a special guest post by Vanja Miskovic a Serbian writer and comic book fan. Visit Vanja's blog for more of this type of comic book criticism. This particular post deals with "North Wind" from BOOM! Studios:

1. Introduction
Let's try to imagine that North Wind is a movie. Now, North Wind, the movie, is your slightly atypical post-apocalyptic blockbuster movie, and it just opened in theatres. The story is basically a coming of age tale, set in the backdrop that is much more fantasy than sci-fi.

As a framing device, we're being told the story from a particular point in the future. North Wind, the movie, doesn't give its main character Pak much to work with, painting him as a classic destiny-obsessed figure, whose idealism does not waver or accept the harsh reality the rest of the characters live in.

That said, most of them are stock characters, playing the roles of the strong and ambitious single mother, the spiritual wise tutor who steps in for the boy as a father figure, the slightly fazed love-interest, and the ruthless villain whose single redeeming feature conveniently stops being an issue by the end of the second act, just in time for the final confrontation. The less said about the fun-loving drunkard who Pak relies on when he gets to the city of Lost Angeles, the better.

Having said that, the setting is very early established and except for a single characteristic very quickly fades into the background, becoming yet another dark post-apocalyptic city.

As for the rest, there are a few times when a plot point takes the viewer by surprise, especially the ending, but was no doubt agreed upon to differentiate it from many other movies of the same ilk. There's even a tournament Pak enters incognito after he gets in the city, vying to win the chance to play catch up with his long-lost childhood friend, now distressingly in the domain of the evil governor. In the eleventh hour, the writer decides to throw in the obligatory resistance movement, just to raise the stakes for the explosive endgame.

There's not much more that can be said about North Wind, the movie, except that there's always a possibility for the sequel. You either like this kind of movie, or you don't, and there's enough of a distinction on the surface, coupled with a few twists in the story and a healthy dose of special effects, that it can leave its mark on the jaded audiences, weary from the latest extravaganza that failed to entertain them.

Which is all well and good, but North Wind is a comic-book miniseries, which, depending on how you look at that, could change everything.

2. The Miniseries
North Wind was a publishing experiment for BOOM! Studios, an independent comic-book company mostly devoted to work on projects which could be easily adapted into feature films. It also had the distinction of being the first comic-book to be officially distributed for free on MySpace, simultaneously with its release in the more traditional pamphlet format.

It's already optioned as a movie, which might mean nothing in the long run. It's also receiving flattering reviews on the internet.

Now, North Wind is by no means a bad comic-book; the writing is crystal clear, approachable, nicely-paced and art is fitting, serviceable to the story and atmospheric, mostly of the well above-average level. The main problem lies in the basic idea that this is not a comic-book story, but one told in comics because of the inherent pulp connections. The authors don't aim to achieve any particular artistic or entertaining value connected to the comic-book playing field, they are merely just trying to find their way to Hollywood by publishing a glorified sales pitch.

Which is not bad for the industry, but still makes the whole thing kind of soulless and interchangeable, particularly today, when the book's competing with many similar projects on the market. And that's where the irony becomes apparent, because even at their worst, comics fare better than retreading the same cliches, sporting your average bland protagonist like the latest CG-fueled movie does. The medium has potential for so much better and more innovative stuff, which has been proven time and time again, both in the mainstream and small press publishing.

Comic creators usually pick a more interesting angle, and find space to tell the story sporting something new and quirky, even when it's clear that they're not dealing with a winner. They try, make the whole thing into an ongoing and change direction, struggle with it, and even after it's ended or cancelled, a lot of questions are still in the air, along with a wealth of stories and ideas that might eventually being mined into a solid movie.

But North Wind is a comic-book designed from the start not to stray from its point, and thus forced to go through the motions, just to catch its audience and surprise them when it steers left, at the moment when we all thought it would go right. It's a big action movie, but you are left feeling nobody got too attached to the thing; it was just an exercise in branding something very familiar into the next big thing everyone's kids will pay to enjoy, and later continue the experience with the obligatory video-game tie-ins.

3. Should You Read It?
Now, the only real question is, was the story worth your time and money? And, that depends on the reader – if you're looking to be entertained by a shallow, action-packed movie that hits the ground running and doesn't stop till the big finale, you're in for a fun ride, with some new thrills every once in a while. But, if you're a fan of the medium, of something that is both personal and authentic, you had better give this a pass, just like the you did the last Hollywood blockbuster that you didn't want anything to do with.

[I haven't read "North Wind" past the first issue, which didn't make me want to read any more. But what does everyone else think? Is Vanja right about "North Wind"? Is it a fun, but soulless Hollywood movie in comic book form? Is such a thing a problem? Should every comic aspire to push the boundaries of the medium and be "personal and authentic"? What say you?]

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