Adaptations are a funny old business. If you were going to set a general rule, you’d probably argue that the original is almost always the best, so why bother converting one good thing into another average thing? The last time I can really remember a significant benefit to having a comic adaptation of a film was in the days before home video, when a comic adaptation of Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark gave young fans access to the spirit and atmosphere of the movies long after the cinemas had moved on to something else. Now we can get the DVD a few weeks after the movie release, it seems altogether less worthwhile.
To be fair to M, however, this is no ordinary movie adaptation. For starters, Jon Muth has used his own artistry to adapt Fritz Lang’s classic 1931 movie. There’s a strong argument that ramping up the quality of the presentation is a worthwhile exercise, since a movie of this age is bound to suffer glitches. And taking out the German language certainly opens it to a new audience, though comic captions are hardly a giant leap away from subtitles.
M is the story of a child murderer – a man who has haunted a town for many months, eluding police and preying on young girls. The police seem stuck for clues, so start rattling the cages of the criminal underworld. Eventually, the local organised crime syndicate sees that their own business is suffering as a result of the elusive paedophile, so they join the man-hunt to capture the suspect.
The script is morally ambiguous. There’s no denying that the murderer has a deep-rooted streak of evil running through him, but is it his fault or is he mad? Is he any worse than the criminals, ironically bringing him to justice despite their own contempt for the law?
Muth has illustrated the work beautifully, using a monochrome palette with photo-realistic quality. But this almost recreates the film as envisioned by a different director, rather than adding much to it.
If you’re new to the movie, the original work is probably still the best place to start tackling a work like this – we can’t think of any reason why you’d opt for this book over the film. Muth himself apologises for his inability to recreate elements of the film, like Lang’s eerie whistling soundtrack, which adds fuel to the over-arching question of why bother trying to adapt it in the first place. So this should certainly fall in line behind the original film on your dark thriller shopping list but, if you are already a big fan, a new take on the movie might well be an attractive prospect.