Monday, March 24, 2008

Marvel Illustrated: Picture of Dorian Gray #4

The latest in Marvel's series of adaptations from famous stories, Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray is the story of a portrait, a young man and a wish. When Dorian Gray commissioned a famous artist to produce a portrait, he loved the finished product – but also openly lamented that the painting would remain youthful forever, while he was doomed to fade into old age. After openly wishing he could trade places with his reflection in the painting, overnight it became clear that his dream had come true. Over twenty years, the portrait began to show the ravages of time and the alterations in his personality, while Dorian himself remained youthful and handsome.

Of all the literature Marvel's adapted recently, I think this is the most apt to succeed in its new format. The story is spread out over such a long period of time that the regular monthly chapter breaks are more at home than they are in, say, Treasure Island or The Dark Tower. Writer Roy Thomas, aware of that peculiarity, has embraced it. The pace of this series is a good match for the medium, and Thomas does a nice job of carrying over crucial parts of the book's narration without burying every panel in it. A lot of the dialog is stilted and overly proper, but since the book is set in a historic period and the characters are clearly upper-class rich folk, it's not that big a deal.

Although he already has a nicely developed cast of characters to deal with, Thomas gives them each an extra touch of individuality and personality that makes up for the series' relatively short page count. His writing is concise but effective – he's able to effectively tell a giant story in a tiny package without sacrificing anything valuable – and that's extremely important in this situation.

Sebastian Fiumara's art is a nice partner for the story – he brings a good understanding of the era, complete with accurate wardrobe and scenery, but keeps the book from getting too bogged down in it or out of touch. Where the artists on previous Marvel Illustrated books have treated the imprint as a second rate job, Fiumara shows a lot of pride in his work. While he occasionally has problems with basic proportions and anatomy, (in one panel, Dorian's hand is small enough to belong to an infant) I could never question his effort. His work is awesome when it's kept simple, which it is for most of the issue, and even when he gives in to the urge to add a few excessive details, his linework remains unique and interesting. Action is infrequent in a book like this one, but on the brief instances that he's given something active to work with, he maximizes their potential. He especially blossoms in the dark, near-colorless atmosphere of this series, and uses that to his own benefit in the same way that Alex Maleev did during his run with Daredevil.

I was both surprised and impressed by The Picture of Dorian Gray. The writing captures the mood and the drama of the Oscar Wilde original, while granting the series its own personality. The artwork perfectly captures Dorian's slow descent into madness, at the same time placing readers in a specific time period without boring or losing them along the way. I'm as surprised as you might be when I recommend you buy this issue, along with the three that came before. It's not without its blemishes, but it's as strong a title as the Marvel Illustrated line has ever produced.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8.5

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