Seth Grahame-Smith’s “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is getting a lot of press lately with its mashup of horror tropes and Regency romance (and, um, ninjas), but for fans of the unadulterated Jane Austen classic, Marvel gives us an adaptation written by novelist Nancy Butler and illustrated by Hugo Petrus.
Flipping through the comic, though, you might think they were going down a Grahame-Smith route. In between pages of young ladies in delicate dresses and well-coiffed young men, we get the tormented, skeletal face Captain America, the throttling of Iron Fist, Wolverine vs. Stryfe in blade-to-pointy-armor combat, and other images that don’t fit with the contents of the “Pride and Prejudice” story. A quick glance inside the covers would make someone think this was a “Pride and Prejudice and Violent Superheroes” comic. It’s not. And I know the creators of this issue didn’t have anything to do with the ad selection or placement, but it just goes to show how at odds this adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel is with the rest of Marvel’s output. Marvel may not be set up to do this adaptation right. It’s a bull in a china shop situation, where the bull is trying to write and illustrate a proper love story and keeps smashing the damned cups and saucers.
Because this isn’t a good comic. Not at all.
What has made Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” so popular for nearly two centuries? Is it her elegant prose style, which is full of ironic wit and evocative descriptions? Is it the formal elegance of its social institutions, seemingly undermined but then reinforced by the novel’s denouement? Is it the perils of the Bennet clan? Is it the cat and mouse game between the feisty Elizabeth and the arrogant Mr. Darcy?
Most film adaptations think it’s the latter, and so does this comic book version, but the best film adaptations have what Marvel’s “Pride and Prejudice” lacks: vivid performances. Instead, we get Hugo Petrus’s art, which alternates between absurd gesticulation and stoic nonchalance (don’t let the cover fool you into thinking that the interiors look anything like Sonny Liew’s art). His characters often seem somewhat Frankensteinian, with heads grafted onto bodies that don’t quite match. It’s not that the art is ugly, but rather that there’s a lack of harmony between the figures, a lack of the kind of stylistic flourish that would make a comic book adaptation of Austen’s novel more than just a transcript of some dialogue mixed in with a gaggle of posed figures. And Alejandro Torres’s art certainly doesn’t help, with its overabundance of orange hues that make the Bennet family seem like they’ve just returned from a long vacation in Bermuda.
Sadly, without Jane Austen’s prose (reduced here to mere highlights, as if this comic were little more than an extended trailer for something much better), and without an artist with the visual panache to make up for what’s missing, this particular entry in the Marvel Illustrated line is a failed experiment from the House of Ideas.