Red Prophet: Tales of Alvin Maker by Roland Bernard Brown
(2006-04-09) When you say the name Dabel Brothers to comic fans the immediate response is sf&f adaptations. Including some very large franchises: George R. R. Martinís Hedge Knight, Laurell K. Hamiltonís Anita Blake and Raymond E. Feistís Magician to name but a few, the Dabel Brothers have gone about cornering the market and creating a small empire for themselves envisioning and creating how these literary works would appear in the comic book medium.
One of the most recent additions to their ever-increasing stable of authors is Orson Scott Card. Famous for his Ender saga, the Dabel Brothers have two on-going projects based on Cardís works; Wyrms and Alvin Maker. It is the second of these projects that will make an appearance first, with Card personally choosing writer Roland Bernard Brown to adapt his second Alvin Maker book, Red Prophet, to a comic book for the Dabel Brothers.
Being a fan of Cardís work, I was a little non-plussed as to why Card and the Dabel Brothers would begin with the second book in the Alvin Maker series (something I intend to ask them in an upcoming interview). It requires that those reading the comic book know a little about Alvin Maker to begin with because for the whole first issue, possibly even two depending on how the adaptation abridges the material, the titular character is nowhere to be seen.
Starting with the obvious, Red Prophet: Tales of Alvin Maker is a straight-up adaptation of the second book in Cardís lengthy series about the seventh son of a seventh son, Alvin, who has a special Ďknackí. Issue #1 encompasses the first forty or so pages of Red Prophet using much of Cardís original text to tell the story. Set in a late eighteenth, early nineteenth century America that is equal parts alternative history, legend and magic, the Alvin Maker books have an earthy charm about them that could have been hard to translate into a visual medium. Thankfully artist Renato Arlem manages to assuage any concerns about the visual style of Red Prophet with highly detailed artwork that fully renders the frontier world of Alvin Maker, making it at once recognisable yet fresh.
What springs out immediately from the first few pages is how busy the comic book is, there is a lot going on in each panel both in terms of the artwork and the narrative structure. Each panelís artwork has a vividness of purpose that makes it appear as if the events are moving forward of their own accord, but unfortunately this is hampered by the way Brown tells the story. Many pages are littered with numerous narrative and speech bubbles that occupy a significant amount of space on the page, cluttering the artwork and creating the impression that this is very much a comic Ďbookí. Red Prophet is in many ways effectively an illustrated story, where the visuals often simply represent what is being spoken of in the narrative bubbles, rather than being a storytelling tool in their own right. This problem is in part due to the complexity of adapting the source material; Cardís work does not lend itself to surface observation and recreation, as it contains inner monologues and narration that cannot be determined simply from the look on a characterís face. The creatorís have chosen to resolve this problem with lengthy narrative bubbles that at times could have been avoided by more effectively incorporating the artwork into the storytelling process. It is not a significant hindrance to enjoying the comic however, it just requires a little more reading than comic book fans may be used to and actually allows the creative team to pack a lot more material into a relatively small space.
As a fairly strict adaptation that uses much of the original work Red Prophet gets the tone and voice of the series spot on. Although it occasionally indulges in a little too much tell and not enough show, at times spoon-feeding the reader what is going on rather than allowing for some insinuation and subtlety, the artwork does a solid job of conveying the frontier life with Arlemís exterior panels and angular Indians particularly strong. The colouring palette is a touch drab and there are some errors involving missing words and grammar within speech balloons, but characterisation is a big plus point in setting the scene and as the story unfolds the pages turn faster and faster. Unfortunately issue #1 is only 22 pages long and although a lot has been condensed into those pages it still seems a little miserly, particularly for a first episode.
Overall I think Red Prophet: Tales of Alvin Maker #1 is promising. Brown and Arlem have tapped into the spirit of the material, condensing the early pages of Cardís book accurately and enjoyably into a good-looking comic. It will be interesting to see how much of the missed backstory and history from the first book, Alvin Maker: Seventh Son, gets included as the series moves along, because it could turn off casual readers if the comic isnít set in itís proper context. Besides establishing who Alvin is, if the balance between artwork and narrative can be adjusted to give the title greater clarity and fluidity, then the introduction of Alvin into the second issue could turn this into a must-have title for fantasy and Card fans alike. One to watch.
Owen Jones © 2006
Information about Dabel Brothers' Red Prophet: Tales of Alvin Maker can be found at their website here:http://www.dabelbrothers.com/rp.html along with information about their other sf&f related projects.