There are two undeniable rules of the way popular culture spreads in today’s world. First, when an entertainment property becomes truly popular, it manages to find its way into every medium imaginable. Second, once HBO makes a television show about anything, all of the sudden, everyone knows about it. In recent years this has become true of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Yes, before the show, there were fans of Martin’s, epic, fantasy novel series, but it was mostly confined to fans of the genre, without much crossover. When the show began airing in the spring of 2011, Thrones had hit the big time, making everyone aware of a new powerhouse. As a result there are now the books, the show, a video game in the works, books of criticism about the show, blogs, a new found interest in the audio books, a card game, action figures and even a comic book adaptation. By the time the comic series was announced, I had already read the books, watched the show and listened to the audio books. My interest in the graphic novel adaptation was limited. After taking one look at the artwork, I decided I could pass on that particular iteration of a story I already knew quite well. Luckily, there is another option for fans of both Game of Thrones and the comic book medium. Last November, Amazon’s newly minted comic book imprint, Jet City Comics, republished the graphic novel adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Hedge Knight.
The Hedge Knight was the first of three short stories Martin wrote that takes place within the Game of Thrones world. Sometime during the early 2000s, Marvel acquired a smaller publisher that was printing comics based on the works of well-known authors like Orson Scott Card and Martin. The first two of Martin’s short stories the Hedge Knight and then the Sworn Sword were published there before the line ended. They were collected into Marvel graphic novel collections, but those went out of print, long before the Game of Thrones bubble. Now the stories are being made available again and they are definitely, something a fan of the books or show would enjoy, unless of course you have already read the original short story.
The first volume titled The Hedge Knight collects a six issue story arc that details the story of a young man named Duncan, the squire of a hedge knight, a traveling knight that sells his sword, like a mercenary, to whichever lord he chooses, as he becomes embroiled in the complex politics and history of Game of Thrones. Fans of the series will recognize familiar themes, ideas, family names and other tropes of the novels. Wisely, the story avoids the George Lucas problem. This story takes place about a hundred years before the events of the first Game of Thrones novel. As a result, none of the characters that appear in the book series appear in this story. The only thing that may connect is the presence of familiar family names like Targaryen, Dondarion and Fossoway. The effect is clever callbacks and references that enrich the mythology, without forcing young Boba Fett into the storyline. It is kind of interesting to see why the Fossoways splintered, becoming the Red Apple and the Green Apple branches.
The story itself is very strong. It is not at all slight, in comparison to the actual novels and it is developed and meaty enough to sustain six issues and the reader’s interest. Ben Avery does a good adaptation. He is able to capture Martin’s writing in a way that is conducive to the comic book medium. He retains Martin’s voice but doesn’t get bogged down by his specific style of prose. The artwork by Mike S. Miller is also a good fit. While it won’t floor any long time comic book readers, the art is well rendered and the storytelling is clear. He is also good at drawing horses, which are supposed to be difficult to draw, but is important for Game of Thrones, because there is at least one on every page. Another strength of the story is its restraint. Anyone who has read the books and then watched the show knows that HBO has turned the nudity and violence up to 11. Just like the books, this adaptation has a little more heart and is more interested in story than shock value. This is a good choice because it makes the material seem more like a story, than a dare to television networks. The story features strong development for the main characters, a grounding that situates the reader in the world, without over doing it, has several twists and turns and a sizable amount of action that makes it a worthwhile reading experience.
The next volume of the series the Sworn Sword is going to be published this month. It continues the story of Duncan as he moves from the lowly squire, of a hedge knight, to something far greater within the Game of Thrones world. I hope that if these two volumes are successful enough, Jet City Comics can reenlist Ben Avery, Mike S. Miller and George R.R. Martin to reunite and complete the third story the Mystery Knight. I am really looking forward to the eventual miniseries version on HBO.