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Maladapted: The first attempt at bringing ‘Blade Runner’ to comics

An adaptation that was nearly lost in time, like tears in rain.

Welcome to the first installment of “Maladapted,” where we here at AiPT! take a look at underwhelming adaptations to and from the medium of comics. We’ll cover what was lost in the adaptation process, as well as bright spots and reasons why the adaptation is still worth seeking out. Let us be the guinea pigs for tackling comics’ hybrid offspring.

With the recent announcement of Titan Comics’ new Blade Runner 2019 series, it seemed appropriate to kick this feature off with a flip through Marvel’s 1982 comic book adaptation of the groundbreaking sci-fi masterpiece.

The source:

Warner Bros.

Without diving too deep into the long and complicated history of Blade Runner (or its many, many different cuts), here’s the short version. Blade Runner was a hugely influential film, pushing forward the possibilities of sci-fi, but it wasn’t a financial success by an stretch. Audiences were turned away by the film’s marketing campaign and nihilistic tone, while critics were divided on the content of the film and the finer points of its screenplay. In the years since, it’s been recognized as a watershed moment in movie-making, and its stark influence can be seen in much of today’s speculative science and noir fiction.

When it was originally released in theaters, there wasn’t much in the way of tie-in merchandise. However, the franchise received a comics adaptation in the form of Marvel Super Special #22. While not as much of a regular sight these days, comic book adaptations of popular films used to rule the landscape. In an era before home video was widely available, this was the best way for a fan to revisit the story of a film they enjoyed, outside of waiting around hoping for a theatrical re-release. This led to adaptations of everything from Star Wars to Buckaroo Banzai, many of them as oversized specials or miniseries.

Luckily, this was no quick cash-in handed off to a couple of randos to churn out! No, that’s a bona fide Jim Steranko cover, with a script by Archie Goodwin and interior artwork by Al Williamson and Ralph Reese.

The adaptation:

Marvel Comics

The first thing you’ll notice when cracking open this book is that there’s a lot of text. Despite preceding the term’s commonplace usage, this comic certainly puts the “novel” in “graphic novel.” in a move similar to the theatrical cut of Blade Runner, in which the studio demanded Harrison Ford record an excessive amount of narration to explain nearly every moment of the film, nearly every panel is crowded by narration boxes.

The script is decently-written (this is Archie Goodwin we’re talking about), but it overly explains things to the point of self-parody. While some of the narration is necessary in this adaptation – to help cover the plot while condensing the runtime of the film to 45-page special – readers don’t necessarily have to be told things like, “I sat down,” while we look at a well-drawn image of Deckard taking a seat. (Sure, minor exaggeration, but the point remains.)

Fans of the film will also miss small touches from the finished product. Goodwin and Co. were likely working with the shooting draft of the screenplay and production stills while putting this comic together, so some of the little discoveries made throughout the shooting process obviously didn’t make their way into the adaptation.

One of the most glaring omissions is Batty’s full speech at the end of his confrontation with Deckard. Rutger Hauer famously altered his final monologue during production, leading to the immortal “tears in rain” line, which is missing here. It’s certainly understandable for the omission, but it does show how little lines make all the difference, and that the process of adaptation is always imperfect and often incongruous. 

There are also some odd little embellishments to the material, like the decision to give the film’s title a bit of extra meaning. At one point, a Blade Runner is described as someone “always movin’ on the edge.” Granted, the term “Blade Runner” was added during production of the film because it was thought that the book’s original title, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, was too unwieldy for a film. However, the movie simply justifies this as being a job title. Putting an extra point on it (no pun intended) seems like an unnecessary bit of gilding the lily.

The goods:

Marvel Comics

Despite some criticisms, there’s still quite a lot to like about this adaptation. The illustrations are extremely faithful to the visual style of the film, especially in regards to sets and costuming. A lot of care was taken in particular to emulate certain specific shots from the movie, including the now-iconic shots of Deckard’s spinner flying alongside the massive digital billboards as well as Batty’s final pose on the rooftop.

The use of shadow (as with the image above with Deckard looking through the blinds) nicely translates the noir aspects of the film to the page. Also, many of the actors’ likenesses are captured well in the comic, especially in regards to Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty.

There are also a few extra scenes not present in the film, wherein we get to see Deckard putting the pieces of the mystery together. Deckard is pretty constantly behind the ball during the movie, so it’s nice to see flashes of real detective work to develop and expand his character. 

The comic also has an ending that’s fairly true to the original cut of the movie, in which Deckard and Rachel flee into an uncertain future. The narration is slightly more cloying in this version of the ending, but at least it’s not the maudlin cop-out of the theatrical ending.

The conclusion:

Marvel Comics

Marvel’s Blade Runner isn’t a perfect adaptation, but it does an admirable job of replicating the look and larger feel of the film. For fans of the source material or the creators of this comic version, it’s a book worth hunting down. It has been released in two formats: Marvel Super Special #22, which is a single oversized issue, and as a two-issue miniseries, which is probably the better-known release.

Despite its flaws, I’d suggest giving this one a read. It may “enhance” your appreciation for the film.

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