Mar 25, 2014

[REVIEW] Kristo (Graphic Novel)


Last year I helped kickstart a graphic novel called "Kristo" by writer Sam Roads & artist Alex Sheikman.  I just happened upon it when looking through the Kickstarter projects on the site, and immediately pledged when I realized it was a re-imagining of The Count of Monte Cristo (my all time favorite story) set in Stalinist Russia.   This was definitely something that I could get behind, and I was thrilled when it was successful.

Recently the copies of the book were sent out, and I got mine and finally had a chance to read it this morning, and so these are my thoughts on the book.

The thing about the Count, is that this story can be remade in virtually any setting, any time, any place.  The themes of betrayal, revenge and hope and redemption are universal, and thus can be universally applied.  There have been numerous takes on this story over the years in film, television and other media.

The pacing of "Kristo" is very quick.  Clocking in at around 65 pages (including appendices, and credits and that type of thing), it is not a slow paced read.  Things happen very quickly, and I think I was surprised by this.  Being as how this is my all time favorite story, I am particularly critical when it comes to interpretations of it.  I absolutely LOVED the 2002 film starring Jim Caviezel (Person of Interest, Passion of the Christ) and Guy Pearce (Memento, LA Confidential).  That movie was brilliant and I think perfectly paced, acted, written, directed, etc.



Some of the older films were fine, they weren't great nor were they terrible.  They were good.   I particularly enjoyed the French mini-series starring Gerard DePardieu that came out a decade or so ago as well.

One of the things that I liked the most about The Count of Monte Cristo is that this is a man who is betrayed by those closest to him, and essentially given a death sentence, shipped off to an island prison from which there is only one way out, he is told, in a body bag.   Over the course of his time there he is taught by an older inmate how to read, write and about culture and the sciences.  He also reveals to Edmond Dantes that those in his life had a very good reason, perhaps, for betraying him. Self preservation, jealousy, and the love of Dante's fiance being among them.

When the old man passes, he bequeaths to Edmond a map to treasure that the old man had stolen. With it Edmond would be wealthy beyond his wildest dreams, and he would be able to get revenge.  The old man, before he died, told Edmond that he should not allow his rage and his desire for revenge to get the better him, imploring him not to use the money to kill these men who betrayed him.  That he needs to embrace the life that he will have, instead of living in the past.

Edmond is unable to do that, completely.  He must have his revenge, however he does so in a manner where he does not kill these men who destroyed his life.  He simply wants to destroy their lives.  He realizes that death would be too good for them, and that "they must suffer as I have suffered", as Caviezel's Dantes says in the 2002 film.

And so using the money, he brings about circumstances that lead them to suffering a complete and utter loss of the life and standing in society that they once enjoyed.  In the end, once he had gotten his revenge, he was able to be at peace with who he was, and what had happened to him.

While, as I said in the beginning, this story IS Universal, and I think it can be told in countless settings and ways, one aspect to this, in my opinion, should not be changed: Edmond makes them suffer as he has suffered, as he says in the movie adaptation.

In the original book, Edmond does not kill the men who wronged him.  He bankrupts them, ruins their name, their standing in society, but he does not kill them. In the 2002 film, he bankrupts one, the other commits suicide before being arrested, and the third (Guy Pearce) ends up fighting Edmond in a duel to the death. A duel that he loses.  The only person Edmond killed was the one who was actively trying to kill him.

In the Godfather there's a brilliant scene opening the movie.  A man comes to Marlon Brando's Vito Corleone, The Godfather, and says that he wants justice for his daughter.  She had been beaten and raped by a would be suitor and his friends, and she was in the hospital recovering.  He wanted them dead and he felt that the Godfather would have his people kill these boys that did this.

And Brando responds with disgust at the man for thinking that he was a man who would murder for money.  He said "That is not justice. Your daughter is still alive." to which the man said "Then they must suffer as she has suffered." to which Corleone agrees.


While some of the changes in this graphic novel were very cool, and even one of the deaths was particularly cool enough to make me audibly say "whoa!" while reading it, overall I was disappointed that this aspect was changed in the Kristo graphic novel.

In this, the character gets his revenge by killing his enemies, and then it appears, being killed himself by the government after securing guarantees that his son will not be held responsible for his actions.   This, to me, is unacceptable in this story.

The whole point of the Count's tale, in my eyes, was that he resisted that urge to murder.  He could have easily had these men killed, but instead he made them suffer. And he made them LIVE with the suffering.  He made them LIVE with the knowledge of how ruined their lives were, and that they knew who did it to them.  The person they had wronged all those years earlier.   That their entire world had collapsed in on themselves, and there was no saving them.

THAT, to me, was a huge factor in the appeal of this story to me.  Anyone can take an untold amount of wealth and use it to kill their enemies, but the way he went about dismantling their lives was a huge factor in the story. How meticulous his plan was, how detailed it was, and how thoroughly devastatingly and brutally efficient it was. And when you change that to just have him killing these people that wronged him, and then he himself dying in the end, it feels like you don't get that same appeal that I did.  It feels cheap and easy.  At least to me.

However, as I said, this is a story that is able to be told countless ways.  There are many deviations in this story from the original, and those are all fine.  How he leaves the prison is different, his education at the hands of his fellow inmate is removed, even the aspect dealing with his child with Mercedes is apparently changed as well, unless I misread that part.

All well and good in the vein of storytelling.  And I'm sure there are many who would be a lot less upset at the fact that he kills his enemies, than I am.  I am just one person, and there are many lessons to be learned from the Count's tale and I'm sure many others have read it and wished he HAD killed those men who wronged him, and this is definitely a tale for them to enjoy.

I don't fault the writer of Kristo for taking a chance and changing up some core aspects to the story.  All adaptations of the Count have either added or omitted something (Almost no adaptations include the subplot about Villefort & Danglar's wife's affair, for example, nor the illegitimate child), so this story has never really been strictly beholden to any single or set of principles or plot devices beyond the betrayal/revenge aspect.

And as I said, perhaps I'm the only one that really felt that way, but even before reading it I was thinking to myself, "He can't kill them.  He just can't.", and when I realized that he was, it was a bit of a disappointment, I think.  I liken my reaction to that to the outrage that erupted this past summer when the "Man of Steel" movie was released, and it was revealed that (SPOILER ALERT FOR MAN OF STEEL) that at the end of a fight between Superman and Zod, Superman snaps Zod's neck to stop him from inflicting more death on the population.  Many were outraged and even a writer of Superman comics lashed out saying "Superman doesn’t kill. Full-stop, Superman doesn’t kill."

Not that this change is anywhere even remotely close to that massive change in canon.

Overall this is a fantastic book, though.  That one aspect does not change that.  The artwork is fantastic, the colors are very good, and the story is a unique take on this timeless classic.  It's not easy taking something that has been covered as much as this has, and make it your own, and they definitely did that.  Perhaps the changing of his methods of dealing out his revenge, is a part of that "making it their own" aspect.

And to be honest, it takes some real courage to take a classic and make it your own.  Classics are not written in stone, they CAN be changed to accomodate the changing in times, and whatnot.  So while I was a bit taken aback by the change, I don't hold that against the creators of this book, because that's what creative types do:  They craft things the way they see fit.  They give things their unique spin.  And as long as that spin fits the tone of the story, and it doesn't come out of left field and make no sense, then it's fine.

And in this case, it fit with the story.  The character of Isaak (this version's Edmond) didn't have the Abbe Faria to teach him.  Perhaps without having met that character, Edmond would have waged a bloody rampage against those he was wronged by.   You can also look at this as what would have happened if Edmond HAD done so.  He "won", but in the end, did he really?

In the 2002 film adaptation, which I think is the best version put out so far) he went at them in a very smart way, thinking out every step ahead of time, and in the end he was left standing with his fiance and son, after demolishing the prison that had tormented him all those years.  Then, and only then, was he able to be at peace.

In this version, he violently takes his adversaries out, and yet in the end he is caught.  So yeah, he's got his revenge, but at what cost?  Perhaps he's fine with it, as long as those closest to him are not harmed, but as I said, this perhaps shows the potential ending for Edmond Dantes if he had not met up with the Abbe Faria.

If Isaak had had a mentor figure, would have have embraced a different tactic?  It's an interesting thought.  And in the end, that's what great works of art are supposed to do: Make you think.  Kristo does that, in spades.

This is a fantastic book that I heartily recommend.  Would have really enjoyed it if it was longer, as it did feel like I was getting through it way too quickly, and specific aspects I was looking forward to getting backstory and reading more indepth, and yet it was soon over.  A mark of a good work is when it's over before you want it to be, I suppose. As long as there's a solid ending, which there was.

I very much recommend this, and encourage you all to seek it out and get it.  You won't regret it.

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