Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Man With the Screaming Brain #3

Man With the Screaming Brain #3, June 2005, Dark Horse Comics
writers: Bruce Campbell & David Goodman
penciller: Rick Remender
background assistance: Chris Carmen
inker: Hilary Barta
colorist: Michelle Madsen
letterer: Nate Piekos for Blambot
editor: Scott Allie

In past reviews, we’ve discussed the phenomenon of celebrities appearing in comics. (In its three short months, A Comic A Day has been treated to appearances by KISS, Don Rickles, and Mr. T.) We have yet to examine when celebrities decide to write comics . . . until today. Man With the Screaming Brain is, according to this issue’s title page, “based on the motion picture screenplay Man With the Screaming Brain by Bruce Campbell and David Goodman.” Perhaps best known for his role in the Evil Dead film series, Bruce Campbell is a living cult spectacle, a fan favorite in many circles of geekdom. (Personally, I enjoyed his work in the short-lived The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., but I digress.) Of course, with a comic book based on a screenplay, the elephant of a question in the room is, “Is this story just not good enough to make it to the silver screen?”

As I’m not an executive producer, I’m not qualified to wrestle that elephant, but as a frequent comic reviewer, I can say that Man With the Screaming Brain makes for a decent miniseries. In this third of four issues, our hero – who bears a striking resemblance to a certain B-movie actor – awakens with amnesia and a voice in his head that can occasionally commandeer his body, punch him with his own fist, and force his hand in panhandling for money to buy something to eat. A few bucks later, our conflicted protagonist settles at a diner over a scotch, a vodka, and a newspaper, in which an image jogs both persona’s memories – our hero appears to be Col-Mart executive William Cole, and his gray matter amigo is the gun-toting Yegor. I don’t know how these men knew each other, but now on the same page, they vow to find the woman that murdered them. Elsewhere, Cole’s wife’s brain is placed in a robot host, and she too vows to find her hubby’s killer. The characters collide on the last page, promising a final issue of mind-blowing proportions . . . literally, perhaps.

The concept driving Man With the Screaming Brain is a blatantly visual one, and with the comedic potential of a man wrestling himself, one primarily intended and best suited for film. The first few pages of this issue are merely graphic echoes of what Bruce Campbell would endure in the role, and although the humor of the situation is brewing beneath the surface of each painstaking panel, the scene lack that certain something and impresses more as a storyboard for a bit to come. The rest of the issue reads well, and in fact, when the robot is introduced, perhaps better captured as a comic book creation. In the context of the rest of the plot’s concepts, i.e. Frankenstein-esque brain surgery, the imagery makes sense, whereas in a film – even on the USA Network – the twist could be too outrageous to believe. Maybe the real benefit of filtering a screenplay through this graphic format is to visually study what would translate into reality, and what’s best left on the page. If Bruce Campbell tested this process at the beginning of his career, something tells me he’d have plenty of comics to his credit today.

Man With the Screaming Brain is my first encounter with Rick Remender’s work, but his style straddles the fence between caricature and cartoon, the perfect compliment to a story that bounces from a mad scientist’s laboratory on one page to a humble coffee shop cafĂ© on another. The letterer does an adequate job distinguishing Cole’s two mentalities through the strategic use of fonts and stylized speech balloons. The coloring could use some filters; darker, perhaps more pastel hues could’ve emphasized the story’s cinematic appeal, and perhaps have created a parallel with the Tarantino/Rodriguez genre that best matches this off-the-wall screenplay. In the text-intensive supplements at the end of this issue, Man With the Screaming Brain is compared with Hellboy and The Goon in Dark Horse’s canon of horror titles, yet this series has a look that contrasts those mythology-driven titles entirely. Although the story fits the comic book format, the art would have benefited from a deviation of the norm.

So, if Campbell actually pulls it off and turns this concept into a feature film, will the introductory credits describe the flick as “A Motion Picture Based on the Comic Book Based on the Original Motion Picture Screenplay?” I don’t have a screaming brain, but the very idea simply makes my head hurt. Besides, didn’t Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin star in a movie with a similar premise? Stick to the funnybooks, Mr. Campbell. Your ideas are embraced here.

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