February 20, 2010

  |  

The Twilight Zone: Deaths-Head Revisited

Original Script by Rod Serling
Adapted by Mark Kneece
Illustrated by Chris Lie
Walker & Company (Bloomsbury)

Continuing my trip into Mark Kneece's graphic visits to the Twilight Zone is this story about an escaped Nazi officer who can't help but return to the scene of his unspeakable crimes. Unfortunately for him, those he murdered still lurk in its ghastly cells and looming gallows.

With the help of publisher Walker & Company, the permission of Carol Serling, and the use of the talents of the alumni of the Savannah College of Art and Design, Kneece brings the Twilight Zone back to its roots, using comics to retell the stories Serling spun on television. Given that Serling himself was influenced by the comics of the time, this is perfectly appropriate.

One of the things that bothered Serling most was man's inhumanity to man, perhaps most cruelly on display during the reign of Hitler. Serling has no mercy on those who claim to only be following orders, as this story makes clear. Freed from the need to please a television sponsor, Kneece can take this to the limit, saying whatever Serling wished to in his original script.

The story itself follows a pretty typical Serling plot. We meet the villain and see how he escaped punishment. He retains all of the arrogance of the SS, thinking he can come back and lord it over those whom he destroyed. Things look normal until closing time, when the ghosts of the past return. The limitless budget of the comics page pays off here, as Kneece can make the scene of the ghostly victims as creepy as he'd like.

After the victims have their way with the captain, he is returned to the normal world, a blubbering idiot who cannot express to anyone that he's had vengeance wreaked upon him--in the Twilight Zone.

Given the audience this is aimed at--my guess is Junior High--I was pretty impressed with Kneece's unflinching look at the horrors of Nazi Germany. He's not out to sugarcoat anything, just like his inspiration, Serling himself. There's a hint of preaching in this one, especially in Serling's closing narration, but that's okay in this case. The whole point of the comic/episode is to serve as a reminder of the horrors imposed by those trying to take power via any means at their disposal.

Chris Lie's art compliments the story very well. He is not out to do anything fancy with his character designs--you could find similar models anywhere. However, his pacing of the panels is pitch-perfect for the story. We get a lot of close-ups, so we can see the emotion in the character's faces. The captain is made to be stiff and unfeeling, until he starts to unravel. As the story marches on towards his insanity, he is placed at odd angles and shown to be unable to handle the mental torture about to be presented to him.

The camera view keeps changing, giving the reader a sense of unbalance. The ghosts look like they are ready to jump out of the panels, and at times the captain looks trapped within them. It's some nice work that shows you don't have to be able to draw everything perfectly in order to draw it well. Giving the reader the right frame of mind is key to telling your story.

My favorite part of Lie's art, however, are the eyes. Once we get into the story, everyone's eyes look crazed, driven mad by the horrors of sheer barbarity. It's a look that a 1960s TV series just would not be able to match. If he could see it, I'm sure Serling would approve.

On a completely unrelated note, I was amused at how Serling is placed in the issue, sipping a coffee on the street as an opener and looking down on the city as closure. It's a nice touch that adds to the feel of the comic.

Overall, this is a very strong adaptation that takes the best parts of the show and uses them in a way that fits a comic best. As a fan of the Twilight Zone, I really like this series by Kneece, and I think any other person with a fondness for the 5th dimension will, too.