Thursday, 26 January 2017

Review: Comic adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - with a title like that, you know perfectly well what you are going to get. Especially if you have, like me, read Seth Grahame-Smith's previous Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and know his knack with mixing horror themes with older, historical or fictional, stories in which you'd never have expected to encounter zombies or vampires. However, instead of reading the original novel, I'm taking a look at the comic book adaptation by Tony Lee and illustrated by Cliff Richards.

The story is familiar to everyone who's ever read Jane Austen's original novel or seen any of its film adaptations: A bunch of sisters are coming to age and their mother is in a hurry to get them married. They attend balls and meet prospective husbands. But it is not all fun and games: not all the prospective husbands are entirely decent and some are more decent than they first seem. I've enjoyed the film adaptations that I've seen well enough, so I was familiar enough with the actual story to enjoy this adaptation where England is beset by hordes of zombies who attack unwary travellers and pretty much anyone who dares to take a walk in a pretty garden.

But that's not all: Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters are no mere damsels in distress, but masters of the Deadly Arts, taught at the Shaolin Temple of the Henan province in China. Where as the rich and the powerful educate their children with the Masters of Kyoto, the father of the Bennett girls is told to hate Japan and has therefore sent them to China instead. Nevertheless, their art is good enough to cut down hordes of zombies on their evening walks.

The story suffers a little bit because of some unexplained twists to the narrative: it is never explained why the sisters' father hates Japan or why everyone else prefers the Japanese masters of the sword. It is also not explained how it turned out that daughters as well as sons are sent to get this education. Also, the sisters keep talking about using katanas - and they are decidedly Japanese swords, rather than Chinese that you'd expect from someone who's been taught by a Chinese master. And, of course, one wonders what was wrong with European cavalry sabres and the long tradition of European swordmasters. I suspect some of the answers to these questions might be simply: because it's cool.

Unfortunately the one thing that you expect a graphic novel adaptation to excel in is decidedly bad here: the illustrations have few high points and lots of low points throughout the story, making it pretty much impossible to tell one blonde daughter from another, or one male suitor from another. It is as if the publisher decided to go with quick drafts because they were cheaper than asking the artist to draw the actual illustrations. It doesn't help that the so-called katanas are first drawn as sort of rapier/cavalry sword hybrids until the artist seems to realise that they were supposed to be Japanese blades.

Still, despite the above grumbling, the graphic novel still offered me enough laughs to make it worth it. Not having read the actual novel, it feels a bit out of place to compare this to Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: The Vampire Hunter, but I'd still venture to say that this is the more successful of the two. Abraham Lincoln took itself a bit too seriously and forgot about the humour of its idea for long stretches, while Pride and Prejudice and Zombies stays more true to its silly concept.