January 17, 2010

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The Twilight Zone: The Odyssey of Flight 33

Original Script by Rod Serling
Adapted by Mark Kneece
Illustrated by Robert Grabe
Walker & Company (Bloomsbury)

This is the second in Kneece's adaptations of old Twilight Zone episodes, taking the original script and moving it into a different kind of visual medium. Aided by an alumni of the Savannah College of Art and Design, Robert Grabe, they aim to give a new generation of readers an appreciation of the talents of a horror/suspense genre master.

I'm sure just about anyone who follows my reviews knows Serling's prolific writing career for various television programs and his keen eye for taking a particular human quirk (often paranoia) and inflaming it by introducing a supernatural phenomenon.

That's the case on the Odyssey of Flight 33, where an ordinary flight runs smack dab into the Twlight Zone. On a return trip, the passengers and crew are dealing with the usual issues of a long passage across the ocean when an unknown force suddenly grips the plane. When control returns to the pilots, things are changed. Flight 33 is in a world they can't imagine, one in which they are very much out of their element. How do they return home? Can they return home? Those are the questions that enter your mind when you fly into...the Twilight Zone.

Kneece's script once again mirrors the original, taking pains to be as close to the source material as possible. The dialog is right out of the original, with almost everything being taken care of the characters instead of narration boxes. He even leaves the time period intact, a choice that I'm not sure I agree with. If working for a new audience, I don't think there's any harm in updating the timelines to help a teen understand what's going on. (I continue to wonder how this plays to the intended audience.) But otherwise, the writing is solid.

Unfortunately, however, his art partner this time doesn't work as well as the first story I read. Instead of using dynamic camera angles to heighten the tension, everything is a straight shot. Action scenes play out like the characters are wooden dolls, and the pacing takes the life right out of the drama of being stuck in time.

I understand that there's not much that can be done to punch up a comic that's going to feature repeated scenes of a cockpit or airline cabin. However, this is where usage of facial features could have gone a long way. As the actors did in the original episode, there's a lot of room to emote even if the scenes don't change. Instead, the characters all have three expressions: Blank, shock, and smiling, with no variations. Serling's world is that of the imagination but Grabe's art is far too pedestrian to capture that world.

As a result, this time around I wasn't as happy with the overall adaptation. The Odyssey of Flight 33 in comic form just moves too slowly for me and I couldn't recommend it unless you are a hard-core fan of the series. There are several others in the series, however, so I am looking forward to reading more. With better artwork, these are great fun.