The Power of the Dark Crystal #1 Review
Before I get into this comic's writing and whether or not the comic does a service to Jim Henson's legacy, I should get something out of the way:
This comic has one of the five best splash pages I have ever seen in my entire life. It actually gave me chills -- like, real chills!
But first, some meta-backstory. After The Dark Crystal was released in 1982, the film's director and creator, Jim Henson, discussed with David Odell, the screenwriter, about the potential for a sequel. Watching it in 2017 inspires a sense of awe, so the film must have been a spectacle to early 80's audiences. The film is filled with a sense of Henson and company showing off, whether it's with incredible cinematography, sophisticated puppetry, advanced filmography, or world building. It's fleshed out and realized in ways that Labyrinth, it's closest Henson relative, simply isn't. This combined with the original film's $25 million profit makes the lack of a proper sequel a bit conspicuous. While one floundered and ultimately died in developmental hell, Odell's original work on the sequel, combined with screenplays by Craig Pearce and Annette Duffy have become the basis for Achaia's Jim Henson's The Power of the Dark Crystal 12-issue comic series. The first issue not only serves as a worthy continuation of Henson's original work, but does so with that same effortless showing off quality that the original had.
Simon Spurrier taps into the strangeness of Thra not just with lore-heavy narration, but with some really interesting narrative choices. The story begins a century after the conclusion of the film, with all of the major players of the film still alive. That detail alone reinforces just how foreign this land is. The original was filled with characters who were intensely old, but treated that age as though a thousand years were a few decades. The Castle of the Crystal is now surrounded by beauty, lushness, and life, in contrast to the surreal deserts that litter much of Henson's fantasy realms. The Fireling is introduced shortly after the comic opens and serves as potentially the best possible choice for a protagonist. The Fireling is an outsider to Thra society, presumably hailing from deep within the planet. The things about Thra culture that seem strange to the Fireling also feel intrinsically strange to readers. The original film's theatrical cut was a little heavy on the exposition, so the comic's trust of its audience is an improvement. Readers are left in the dark about why offerings are made to the crystal, what the deal is with the authoritarian Geflings, or why some appear to be afflicted by a disease. The Fireling doesn't know, so why should we. We are strangers in a strange land, paired with something even stranger.
The Fireling learns of the events a hundred years prior through an inventive form of candlemancy, for lack of a better word. When looking through the things that the candle has seen, readers are treated to the aforementioned splash page. It manages to push the surrealism of the whole aesthetic into a realm that practical effects-laden filmmaking simply wouldn't be able to, and while maintaining a slight spiral / geometrical visual motif that is hinted throughout the first half of the book, and also while being the first sight of the Skeksies. It is unexpected in terms of art and story, and really captures a lot of the magic that comic books can do in a way that other mediums simply cannot. Kelly and Nichole Matthews artwork makes the whole affair incredible, and while it is too early to tell, it could potentially push it to classic territory.
You don't need to be an expert on the original film, let alone the previous supplemental readings for it. In all honesty, this comic would easily impress somebody never seen who has The Dark Crystal. The Power of the Dark Crystal is truly comics as comics should be – utterly riveting, captivating, and capable of bringing life to a world both fantastic and unique. It's one of the best #1's I've ever read, and for anybody who enjoys great art, the original movie, and strong storytelling, it's essential reading.
The Power of the Dark Crystal #1