I had heard an awful lot about Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber’s comic series, Whiteout, before I ever saw the film based on it. That was way back in 2011, as you may recall, so if you want to check out my review, you can have at it. Critics absolutely loathed the film and audiences stayed away en masse, so it sank pretty much without a trace. I found it sometimes hard to swallow, but otherwise quite good, so clearly opinions vary. Such is also the case with this trade paperback of Whiteout, fully titled Whiteout, Vol. 1: Definitive Edition.
Before I talk about the things I didn’t like about Whiteout, I need to give credit to writer Greg Rucka for the things he did right. In the first place, I have to say that his choice to set a murder mystery in the Antarctic was a brilliant one. He took a highly obscure bit of trivia — there is essentially one lawman (or -woman) for the entire continent, and so far no killings — and spun it out into an intriguing tale. Before watching the film of Whiteout, or reading the comic, I had no idea of such things and I always enjoy learning something new, particularly when it’s that interesting.
What interests me probably the most about Whiteout is that virtually all the criticisms laid at the feet of the film version, starring Kate Beckinsale as US Marshal Carrie Stetko, are fully present and accounted for in the source material. This is not a case where Hollywood took a perfect piece of creativity and mangled it beyond all recognition. Yes, there’s a touch more action in the movie than in the comic and the MacGuffin has been changed, but I actually feel as though these are improvements and not areas of valid criticism.
For those who chose not to read my review of the film, I will give you a rundown of the basic plot of Whiteout.
Considering that the character of Judge Dredd is such a nonentity in the United States, it’s surprising that any publishing company even bothers to release tie-in products to the ongoing comic series contained in the magazines, 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Magazine. At best we’re talking about a niche market, being comprised first of people who actually know the character and then of people who care enough to read his further adventures. This is a pretty small selection, made even smaller when, in the case of Judge Dredd, Year One: City Fathers, the tie-in product is a Kindle-only novella. We’re talking three levels down. How few people are we referring to here?
However many there are, you can consider me one of them. I know and like Judge Dredd, though I’m unable to obtain copies of 2000 AD on a regular basis, and I’ve seen both the movies, read some of the books and even played the roleplaying games. In fact, I came upon City Fathers almost by accident: I had just finished reading the omnibus edition, Dredd (reviewed elsewhere) and City Fathers was mentioned in the back matter among advertisements for other Judge Dredd-related paraphernalia. Because the novella was relatively cheap ($3.00) and easy to get (simple download), I took the jump, hoping to gain some insight into Judge Dredd as he was in his first year on the streets.
For those hoping that this would be the Judge Dredd equivalent of Batman: Year One, I have to tell you that this is not the case. Whereas the Batman story was an in-depth prequel that essentially told us what the early, formative days of Batman’s vigilante career were like, City Fathers concentrates on being a regular, old Judge Dredd story with a twist to keep things lively.
The 2012 release of the movie Dredd, reviewed right here in this space, was a total disaster. I don’t think anyone can argue that. The movie wasn’t budgeted into the hundreds of millions, so it wasn’t the kind of bomb a movie like, say, Battleship was, but it was indisputably a bomb. Even international audiences didn’t turn out for it, which in today’s moviemaking world is the kiss of death.
What went wrong? I’d like to lay the lion’s share of the blame on 1995′s Judge Dredd, starring Sylvester Stallone. That movie was so terrible simply as a movie that it almost doesn’t even matter that it was a grotesque perversion of the source material. So appalling, in fact, that it tainted perceptions of the original Judge Dredd character even among fans. That takes some doing. And you’d hope that nearly 20 years would be enough time to erase that bad taste in everyone’s mouth, but it’s clear that for every one of us ready to move forward into a brighter future there were a half-dozen folks who were never going to get over what Stallone visited upon them.
Given that this is the case, I feel kind of sorry for Abaddon Books, the publishing company that holds the rights to release tie-in novels based on the Judge Dredd property. Here’s a business that doesn’t earn all of its money from Dredd, but is clearly proud of its association with him and tries to put out the best Judge Dredd material possible. For this book, a collection of previously published novels, they felt like it was a safe bet to put a picture of Karl Urban as Dredd on the cover and call the omnibus Dredd in a clear attempt to link in people’s minds their product to the movie. How badly could this go astray? Well, we see the answer to that now.
Abaddon’s Dredd could not have received a more fatal blow than if it had been a novelization of Stallone’s movie. Only a tiny subset of the already tiny audience for the 2012 film would even be interested in this thing, so we’re talking about a vanishingly small number. Which is really too bad, because Dredd contains some real entertainment value.
Not to worry, I can hear you through your computer screen. You’re saying, “Wait a minute, Sam, didn’t you hate the original Ghost Rider movie? Why would you spend your hard-earned cash going to see the sequel in the theater?”
Yes, it is true: I did not care for 2007′s Ghost Rider. I thought Nicolas Cage was wildly miscast as Johnny Blaze — the stunt biker who traded his soul for his father’s life, only to be double-crossed — and I felt the direction, by Daredevil‘s Mark Steven Johnson (who also wrote the somnambulant screenplay), was sub-par. Which was really too bad, because as far as third-tier Marvel superheroes go, and Ghost Rider is definitely not one of the bigger names in the Marvel stable, Ghost Rider is a good one: photogenic, badass… filmable. But, as with Daredevil before, Johnson turned something interesting into something dull and I gave Ghost Rider a big thumbs down.
Nicolas Cage is back as Johnny Blaze, which is a strike against, but Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance boasts a screenplay at least co-written by David S. Goyer — who is doing a bang-up job with the new Batman movies, though his botch of the Blade series remains a black mark — and the directing duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who got instant fanboy cred for Crank and Crank 2. It also had the benefit of a really well-put-together trailer, which can sucker even a cynic like me into a theater seat. I want to like any movie featuring Ghost Rider, so it doesn’t take a lot to nudge me in the right direction.