Wednesday, February 12, 2014

To the Brain By Way of the Heart and Lungs

I normally prefer Gold Key's beautiful painted covers to their photo covers, but this montage of images from the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage is undeniably awesome.

The adaptation of the movie found inside is pretty gosh-darn awesome as well. Gold Key (and Dell before them) usually did a pretty good job of turning movies into comic books, but the necessity of fitting these stories into 32 pages often meant they felt a bit rushed.

But the uncredited writer did a skilled job of trimming down Fantastic Voyage. The story, of course, involves saving a man who has an inoperable brain tumor. Well, inoperable from the outside. If you shrink a submarine (named the Proteus) down to microscopic size and inject it into the man's bloodstream, then it might be possible to perform the delicate operation from the inside.

Naturally, that job would be much easier if there weren't a double agent on board, sabotaging their efforts.

I've written about the movie before, but that was during a series of posts listing the three coolest make-believe submarines in history. (The Proteus, by the way, was number 2.) So I didn't talk a lot about the story.

The sub crew has an hour before the minuaturization process reverses itself, so they are under time pressure. Injected into an artery in the injured man's neck, they pass through a fistula (a microscopic joining of an artery and a vein formed by an injury) and end up going in the wrong direction. This means artificially stopping the heart so the sub can pass through without being shaken apart while they get back in an artery and head to the brain. But then their air tanks are leaked dry and the laser meant to be used during the operation is damaged. Are these accidents or acts of sabotage? The crew has to improvise repairs while working desperately against the clock.

It's a visually beautiful movie that still looks great today. It's well-known for having several embarrassingly large plot holes (which Isaac Asimov largely closed in his excellent novelization), but it's enjoyable enough to convince us to overlook those holes.

The comic book condenses the story skillfully, leaving out a lot of character interaction that wasn't vital to the plot and dropping one self-contained action sequence--in the movie, the sub gets into quite a bit of trouble while traveling through the ear canal. The comic simply skips that part entirely.

Also, I really appreciate the fact that, even though Gold Key counted a high proportion of kids among their readers, the story isn't dumbed down at all. The problems the sub encounters and the solutions the crew comes up with often require an explanation about some aspect human anatomy or physiology. The comic trusts its readers to understand these explanations while following along with the story. I wish I knew who the writer was--he deserve kudos for his skill in plot construction and his trust that his audience is actually smart. The same plot holes are there as are in the movie, but that's the fault of the screen-writers, not the comic writer.

The Grand Comics Database lists Dan Adkins as the artist and both Wally Wood and Tony Coleman as the inkers, though an interview with Adkins you can read here gives more detail on who did what. The finished art is very strong and does a great job of catching the same wonderful visuals that makes the movie so much fun.

Fantastic Voyage is a great example of how the same story can be told in different ways via different media.

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