Pride & Prejudice & Peter Parker: Classic Literature Goes Comic Book

So the other night I’m at home, relaxing with my wife and looking forward to a bit of TV – we’re powerdiscing through The Golden Girls and Desperate Housewives right now – when she distracts me as she’s queueing up the next episode. Which turns out not to involve Bea Arthur in any way. It was Wishbone. She found me Wishbone! I have the greatest wife ever. What is the story, Wishbone? Please, tell me, I am your rapt audience for the next twenty-two minutes.

After watching Wishbone Holmes tackle the case of the Hound of the Baskervilles, it got me thinking about how often modern storytelling returns to the classic stories of literature again and again, drawing new meaning and relevance to them. And upping the bad-assery at the same time. Sherlock Holmes has been enjoying a renaissance, with the Robert Downey Jr movies making waves, not to mention the BBC’s Sherlock (which if you haven’t seen, you need to right now – especially if you’re a fan of Doctors Who Nine through Eleven).

Holmes has long been a mainstay of the comic book world, as well. He’s had his own title more than once, from more than one major house. He’s shown up to help Batman (a character who was originally based on Holmes), brought Batman back into the past to help him, been frozen and rejuvenated in the year 3000 with a robotic Watson, died and been reborn a dozen times on the inked page.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Another classic making a comeback is Alice in Wonderland. The original novel by Lewis Carroll was full of acid-trippy adventures and wild characters, exactly the kind of thing for a darkly twisted thriller like the one that Zenescope rolled out as a spin-off of their popular Grimm Fairy Tales title. Grimm Fairy Tales: Return to Wonderland is a horror comic that involves sex, drugs, and literature that is definitely not safe for work or little eyes.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

I’m a huge fan of the SyFy (I am so sorry) original mini-series Tin Man, and not just because of my unhealthy adoration of Neal McDonough (take me, Lieutenant Hawk!). Not to mention the novel and subsequent Broadway musical Wicked. They came out a few years ago, but Marvel started running a full-colour monthly called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 2008, and followed it up with The Marvelous Land of Oz. Again, it takes the strange world of Oz first imagined by Frank L. Baum and creates a vaguely menacing land of danger for the protagonists.

The Red-Headed League

And then, of course, there is the greatest of literary adaptions, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The first trade volume of this was actually required reading in one of the lit classes at my university (one that I never actually took). This takes literary adaption to a whole new level, not just retelling the classic stories but taking the main characters and throwing them together into a super-crime-fighting team. It’s like the ultimate literary mash-up. Characters from Shelley, Wilde, Jules Verne, Victor Hugo, Victorian-era fantasy at its height. Can you tell I’m a dork about this stuff?

The great thing about the League is that, like their contemporary counterparts the Avengers or the X-Men, the line-up is always changing. Included in two of the collected volumes are extensive background dossiers on the world and history of the League, and Alan Moore has promised more stories in the future

None of these on your summer reading list? Not to fear. I have sitting at my elbow a slender issue of Sense and Sensibility, the five-issue comic book adaption of the Jane Austen classic put out by Marvel last summer. You can find everything from Austen to the Bible in comic book form these days. So go forth, and pretend to be a literature snob when you can quote Silas Marner after an hour in the back of the local Comix Dungeon.

What’s your favourite comic book adaption of a classic? How successful do you think these issues are? Should there be more or less of them on the shelves?

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