The Incredible Shrinking Man creeped the hell out of me as a child. The movie version of Richard Matheson's 1956 novel, it told the story of Scott Carey, who began shrinking at the rate of one-seventh of an inch each day. There was no happy ending...
The film sent me to the novel, where Matheson's cool, considered prose enriched the story as I knew it. The two versions of the tale were different experiences, but both were eerie, unnerving.
This first issue of IDW's four-part comic book version is neither of those things. Writer Ted Adams hews closely to the original tale, alternating Scott's struggle to survive at five-sevenths of an inch - trapped in a basement alongside a hungry spider - with the weeks following the discovery of his terrible condition. Scott's conversations with wife Lou flit between tender and tense. Sadly, his efforts to avoid being eaten while finding something to eat are barely more exciting than the domestic scenes.
Adams goes for a minimalist approach, eschewing thought bubbles ('no longer en vogue', he tells us in the backmatter), while adding dialogue 'to help tell the story'. But without the connective tissue of Matheson's prose, sans the intimacy with Scott's thoughts laid out in the novel, he comes across as a bit of a heel, rather than a man whose grip on his psyche is lessening as his body retreats from its natural environment.
In the original, Lou commenting positively on the now-short Scott's smoothness is interpreted by him as her unable to hide that she's seeing him as a little boy. It's all there, in Matheson's relatable words. Here, it's just a bit of business.
Artist Mark Torres gives it the old college try - altering the 'camera position' to lend interest to essentially static scenes of dinner table talk, for example - but the basement scenes, with Scott endangered by the spider, or trying to swing onto a chair, are, in their way, equally still. Are speed lines as passé as thought balloons? They'd certainly have helped - if you're going to adapt a novel into comics, why not take advantage of the tried and tested techniques at your disposal?
A moment in which Scott is mistaken for a child by boys playing ball doesn't have the power it might because our hero, in the front of the panel, still looks like a grown man. What could be a significant stage on Scott's path to despair is pretty much thrown away.
While the bodies are overly stiff, and facial expressions tend to the melodramatic - even for a sci-fi body horror - Torres does a good job of capturing the growing awkwardness between Lou and Scott.
Particularly effective images see husband hugging wife from behind, as shadows threaten to envelop him entirely; and spider-legs looming at the corner of a panel as he sleeps in a matchbox. Overall, though, the pages lack dynamism, danger. Torres is being asked to do too much of the work as scripter Adams opts for fashionable minimalism, and the brooding drama of Matheson's original doesn't translate easily to the comics page.
The colour work of Tomi Varga impresses, with purples and green tones adding a nauseating tinge to the world. And Robbie Robbins' unshowy lettering does the job.
I like Torres' two covers, too, one taking a Jonathan Hickman-style graphic approach, the other being an EC homage (though the choice of dialogue from the interior kills any chance of a visceral thrill).
I really wanted to like this more. Matheson - the man behind I Am Legend, Hell House and numerous classic episodes of The Twilight Zone - deserves to have his work dusted off, and this is obviously a passion project for Adams. But a hypnotic, compelling story has become a pedestrian comic book. Adams says he hopes this comic will send people back to the original novel. It already has in my case - but it won't bring me back for issue two.