Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Books: The Last Unicorn - comic book adaptation

Peter S. Beagle's classic fantasy novel "The Last Unicorn" has been adapted into many different forms over the years. The Rankin/Bass animated film version of the story has long been a cult classic, and Beagle also penned a stage adaptation for the Pacific Northwest Ballet. IDW Publishing has delivered the latest incarnation of "The Last Unicorn," in the form of a six-issue comic series.

Adapted by Peter B. Gillis and illustrated by Reane De Liz and Ray Dillon, the visuals of the comic book version of "Unicorn" are obviously influenced by the animated film, though the series includes several parts of the novel that the movie left out. The plot of the comic follows the novel's, beat for beat: a unicorn sets out from her isolated forest, hoping to discover what happened to the rest of her kind, and, during the journey, she is tested by an evil king, a powerful demon, and her own longing.

Gillis's adaptation is skillfully executed for the most part. He excerpts or incorporates most of the important lines from the novel, and his characterization of the inept magician Schmendrick is spot-on. As for the art, De Liz and Dillon do a serviceable job of translating the epic encounters from the novel into splashy tableaux:

The biggest problem with the comic (and one which its authors likely had little control over) is its abbreviated length: at only six issues, the story scarcely has time to breathe. The dialogue-heavy episodes in the evil king's castle are rushed, so the ending doesn't have nearly the emotional payoff as the novel did. Even with the compressed third act, it's nice to see "The Last Unicorn" revived, once again, for a new audience.


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