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Throw me the comic, I throw you the whip – Marvel Super Special #18, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”

March 27, 2012

So far the Marvel Super Special March has trudged through a lot of lesser lights. Films to comics like Krull, The Last Starfighter, Buckaroo Banzai and their ilk are interesting landmarks, but they aren’t  must see tourist attractions. They aren’t the Coliseum. They aren’t the Great Wall.

The best have been saved for last.

There are only two more Super Specials that I’ve lined up for this month. It was a toss-up on which would be the penultimate and which would be the ultimate. It just so happens that today’s post falls on the two-year anniversary of this blog’s senses-shattering origin. Since there was no great difference in the pre-eminence of the two books, it really didn’t matter which fell where — which was the anniversary, which was the grand finale. And, as you could tell by the title and the cover scan above, I’ve decided to sip wine (well, down whiskey actually) and celebrate the two-year mark in the fedoraed company of one Indiana Jones.

Now. Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I really don’t think I have to sing its praises too much, but I will, because I just can’t resist. The film was a perfect marriage, an unabashed “One of the Best Films of All Time” chunk of awesomeness, one that has defined the cinematic ACTION genre. It’s five-star cinema, and forces all review star systems that use only four to add another. Spielberg when he shone the brightest. Lucas before he was embarrassing. Ford in his rugged but vulnerable prime. (I’m a big Magnum, P.I. fan, and I’ve always wondered how Raiders would have worked out if scheduling conflicts hadn’t arisen and Tom Selleck been Indiana Jones as originally intended. I think it would have been damn good, but it would have lacked a marked degree of the sublimity.) Williams at his buoyant best.

For me, it boils down to this: When I was little my father made me a makeshift whip to give a little more vérité to the backyard Indy make-believe. It was just a fairly thin length of rope that he had cut to whip length and then glued at one end to a short rod of wood. I don’t think it could have tamed a lion, but it made a hell of a nice snapping sound as I hummed the Raiders theme and tried futilely to wrap it around railings. And in the hierarchy of cherished childhood toys, it ranks far above any store-bought treasures. (As I sit here I wonder where it is, and hope it hasn’t been thrown out in a “What the hell is this?” cleaning. I’d love to crack it one more time.)

I grew up loving Indiana Jones, and I grew up loving Raiders. And now we come to the comic.

It’s an extraordinarily fun read for a number of reasons. First and foremost is the talent behind it. The bottom of the barrel was not scraped with John Buscema (pencils) and Klaus Janson (inks — and inking Indiana Jones is a much more vital task than embellishing Ringo), nor with Walt Simonson (script) or Howard Chaykin (cover painting — which ranks behind “Conan with Gun” and “Apes in Coonskin Caps,” but a creditable effort nonetheless). Buscema’s and Janson’s styles, both of which have a masculine quality to them, meld to make Henry Jones Jr.’s stubble rise right off the page. They do a great job here of taking the onscreen action, with its fist-to-face foley and relentless (Check that. RELENTLESS.) pace, and putting it in two dimensions. And they’re able to pull back when the situation demands it. Here’s Marion Ravenwood, with that nice dress so recently given to her by Belloq, getting tossed into the Ark’s snake-filled chamber by those mean Nazis:

“Once again you see that there is nothing you can possess which I cannot throw thirty feet down into a sea of asps.”

Another winning feature of the comic is discovering how iconic scenes are handled differently, either because of medium constraints or because they were unsettled in the script and altered on the set. Marion’s drinking bout against the fat guy that kind of looks like Benny Hill is a treasured moment for many, and it’s one that gets a lot more wordy in the comic:

Another is Indy’s battle with the giant bald Nazi in front of the flying wing, the one that ends with propeller puree. There’s no such gore in the book, though the big guy still struts about with his shirt off:

And the flying wing explodes because of plain ol’ dumb luck:


Last, it’s necessary to note that the this adaptation took the time to explain one of the more maddening omissions in the film. Everyone scratched their heads when Indiana climbed up on top of the German sub, the sub dove, and the next thing we knew — after a red line was traced on a map, natch — the sub and Indiana wound up at a hidden Nazi base. (When I was younger I assumed that the sub coasted along the surface and Indy hugged the hatch — sort of like Han Solo’s gambit to stick on the side of a Star Destroyer and float away with the garbage. Hey…) The long and deleted bodysurfing adventure of our hero is here presented in all its unlikely glory:

In a tale centered around the globe-hopping pursuit of an Old Testament relic that melts people’s faces, that may be the biggest imagination stretcher of them all. And it looks like Jones is turning into Conan in that last panel — and that he might see the crazy castaway from “Tales of the Black Freighter” floating the other way.

At this late date, I deem the Raiders of the Lost Ark comic a rousing success. It’s a different look at, or an alternate aspect of, something that’s been chiseled into the architecture of our collective consciousness, and it stands high above the other offerings thus far profiled in this month-long retrospective. I’ll grant that a good deal of the work was done before pencil ever touched paper. A rising tide raises all boats, and Spielberg et al brought the water level up to undreamed of heights. Still, there’s an unbridled fun to the comic, something only possible before blockbuster marketing machines really got ramped up and sanitized all movie paraphernalia. My long-overdue thanks to all involved for throwing this log on the Bonfire of Awesome.

One more Super Special to go. It matches Raiders, but it could never surpass it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. bluekatt permalink
    November 9, 2012 12:21 pm

    i always liked the temple of doom much better then raiders

    marion went from somebody who coudl hold her own in raiders to a typical damsel in distress
    at least willie was useless from the start her character didnt have to be neutered

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