Vampires versus werewolves: Ladies and gentlemen, step right up and watch the undead try and kill each other. In the red corner, the previously undefeated rulers of the undead; sexy and decadent — the vampires. Facing off against them in the blue corner, their former slaves, thought hunted to extinction, but secretly making a comeback: they’re furry and barbaric with vengeance on their minds — The Lycan.
The movies Underworld and Underworld Evolution introduced audiences to a world where vampires and werewolves had been at war with each other for centuries. While the vampires had believed that their former slaves had been hunted nearly to extinction, treachery and deceit by an ambitious second in command had actually allowed the werewolves to flourish in secret.
In fact, they were more than flourishing. Under the guidance of their supposedly dead leader, Lucien (did I mention betrayal among the vampires?), they were in the process of creating a super being who combined the powers of the two species. To the vampires, believing as most of them do that werewolves are inferior beings, the thought of mixing the blood of the two races was an abomination that mustn’t be allowed to happen.
Underworld Evolution, much as the title implies, takes us on the first step down the road with the new species, as the two heroes from the first movie — Michael the mix blood and Selene the vampire, who has fallen in love with him — have to take on the originators of both species, Marcus and William Corvinus, twin brothers with a difference. One of them is a werewolf and the other a vampire. Way back when, in the dark ages, they started it all.
The movies were really well done and great visual treats. Although slightly over the top on occasion, they were highly entertaining and quite a lot of fun. A perfect mixture of horror movie gore, love story, and plain old fashioned adventure story, offering a new and interesting take on the world of the undead. What really made them so successful was the matter of fact way in which both species and their world was dealt with. It made it very easy as an audience member to suspend your disbelief and accept the reality the film makers had created.
So when I found out that IDW Publishing had created graphic novel versions of both movies I was intrigued. I have seen movies that have been made from graphic novels, and graphic novels that were adaptations of novels, so I was interested in seeing how well a kinetic art form like film could be translated into the static form of a graphic novel.
The Complete Underworld is an omnibus that not only contains adaptations of both Underworld and Underworld Evolution but a prequel story set in the same world called Red In Tooth and Claw. Both adaptations were written by Kris Oprisko, with art work supplied by Nick Postic and Nick Marinkovitch for Underworld, ( the same team also worked on the prequel) and Antonio Vasquez for Underworld Evolution.
When critiquing any adaptation the key is not to get caught up in comparing it to the original story, but in trying to see how well the adapters have managed to recreate the story in their medium. The question I always try and ask myself is whether or not the adaptation works as a stand alone project, and would someone unfamiliar with the original be able to enjoy it?
Both adaptations have done admirable jobs of telling the stories, so that even the uninitiated would have no problem in following what was happening. The major difference between the two adaptations is the artwork. While both did fine jobs in doing their part in visually imparting information to the reader, Nick Postic and Nick Marinkovitch’s work in Underworld went quite a bit further in creating the atmosphere appropriate to a world existing in the shadows of the mortal world.
Backgrounds are indistinct blurs of dark colours from which a white face or a weapon will all of a sudden materialize. Colours are muted, if distinct at all, yet with deft line work the artists have made it easy for the reader to distinguish between characters and species. They have definitely taken their cues from the design team of the movies, but carried the depth of the darkness even further to great effect.
In comparison, I found the more realistic approach taken by Antonio Vasquez in the adaptation of Underworld Evolution to be a bit jarring. While it’s true that it made it easier to follow the story line on occasion, it also made it harder to believe in the world that the action was taking place in. The art work was very “comic book” and made no attempt to create the type of atmosphere that had made the first adaptation so effective.
The bonus prequel, Red In Tooth And Claw, was a surprise in terms of its content. The writers have created the back story for the large werewolf named Raze from the movie Underworld. It is quite a good, inspired piece, of story telling that manages to recreate the world of the vampires and werewolves in another environment. What I really liked about it was its refusal to show either the werewolves or the vampires as “good guys.” While our sympathies might be initially with the werewolves because they are being hunted by a group of vampires, the fact that Lucien decides to “turn” the mortal version of Raze because he would be a useful werewolf makes him a lot less sympathetic.
The Complete Underworld, containing graphic novel adaptations of the movies, Underworld, Underworld Evolution, and a new original story set in the same world, Red In Tooth And Claw, does a good job of bringing the world of the movies to life. While the artwork in the adaptation of the second movie wasn’t as convincing as its predecessor, it still managed to do a good job of telling the story. This omnibus collection makes both a great companion piece for the movies that also works in its own right as a stand alone adaptation of the stories.