Tarantino is known by fans and foes alike for essentially making good bad movies. Personally, I find some of them great, and some of them horrible. Django as a film, for me, ranks probably in the top two. But how is a comic book adaptation standing up to that?
First, a side note: I am fascinated by the fact that Tarantino made this movie from a place that is very different from where most people, post-viewing, are coming at it. Tribute to Spaghetti Westerns and Blaxploitation aside, Tarantino also wanted to open discussion about America’s horrible history with slavery, and racism in general–to which he makes several very thoughtful commentaries in the film. Thom Hartman of Common Dreams went so far as to describe the movie as Tarantino telling today’s American South to go fuck itself.
…But a month in to the world of online reviews, and I’m knee-deep in (very) modern-day commentary about the paradigms of white/male privelege, which all ultimately boil down to whether or not Tarantino, as a white man, should have made a movie about slavery at all.
I’m going to do the only reasonable thing I can with regard to these comments, and just ignore them.
Let’s talk comics.
Shortly after the movie’s release, Vertigo released Issue #1 of “Django Unchained,” a 24-page comic book. Categorically, comic books released in conjunction with a film counterpart are exploitative, in that they’re exploiting peaked interest in a particular plot, character, or genre (whether it’s Kung-Fu, Westerns, etc.) It seems ironic to me that this is an exploitation comic about a film that is essentially a tribute to exploitation film. That would explain why I was the third person in line at the comic shop to be buying it. Generally, I’m not down with this kind of comic-book making: they are all designed to be viewed in a different medium (film), and are, more or less, hastily-assembled products solely introduced for the making of money and fan-swag. The artwork is amazing, yes, but stylistically I see nothing special so far, aside from some exceptional cover art and promotion posters.
I am, however, hopeful. The issue opens with a short forward by Tarantino touching on his favorite childhood Western comics, and pointing out that the comic, unlike the movie, is the complete script, unedited and uncut. Things that were cut out of the movie due to lack of time or actors pulling out due to scheduling conflicts remain as scenes in the comic. (Who pulls out of a Tarantino film due to a “scheduling conflict?” apparently half a dozen well-known Hollywood stars…)
More than the film, the comic is a straight-forward look at the barbarity of slavery in the sunset days of the pre-Civil War South (before it transformed itself into the share-cropping/Jim Crow system). Much like any Issue 1, we see a layout of the plot and characters here, and little deviation from the movie.
Some general observations…
I will note that the comic and film DO NOT sing a song of revolution — one in which, say, Django would team up with other slaves, and with their strength in numbers, lead an insurrection. So let’s stop talking about how there isn’t enough of this or that in the film: it’s obviously not meant to be seen that way. The story sings the undeniably individualistic tune of revenge, in which our singular hero and [sometimes] his de-facto side-kick, Dr. King Schultz, go it alone in a hostile environment without anyone’s help.
If you’re looking for a film with strong female roles, you’re barking up the wrong genre tree. The last time someone in Hollywood thought a bunch of strong women belonged in a Western, disaster struck. Someone, someday, will change this–but not here, and not today.
I’m looking forward to the possibilities of this comic series. I’m looking forward to seeing scenes that were cut, and seeing stylistically what it might bring to the table. But so far, nothing remarkable. Stay tuned.