Transgenic Sins of the Flesh: A Review of The Fly: Outbreak #1
Many franchises have found an active life--or after-life--in the medium of comic books. Some use it as a way to build and explore an "expanded universe" (e.g., Star Trek, Star Wars) while others use it to continue a story that ended in a different medium (e.g., Millennium, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Given my interest in all things "Big Bug" related, a recent franchise tie-in comic book intrigued me so much that I couldn't wait for the trade paperback: The Fly: Outbreak by IDW Publishing, written by Brandon Seifert and drawn by menton3.
Outbreak picks up some time after the events of The Fly II. Martin, son of the late Seth "Brundlefly" Brundle, has returned to Bartok Industries to continue his research into his father's telepods in order to find a cure for his condition. He appears to be a normal human being, but he still experiences occasional problems that stem from his inherited insect genes. During the course of the first issue, Martin learns that his work to permanently fix his own DNA has inadvertently created a pathogen that can warp the genetic code of those who are infected.
If David Cronenberg's The Fly was a remake of the original 1958 Fly movie, then Chris Walas' The Fly II is a semi-remake of the original film's two sequels, Return of the Fly (1959) and Curse of the Fly (1965). I say this because Walas assembled the story for his film by using plot threads and themes from both Return (the original doomed scientist's son, skullduggery to own the telepod's secrets) and Curse (accelerated aging due to fly genes, additional ways to mutate organisms in telepods other than fusing them to other organisms). Thus, with the original Fly trilogy covered by the remake and its sequel, Outbreak has the opportunity to expand upon ideas and themes from the previous films in new, exciting and grotesque.
On the other hand, Outbreak is a retcon of sorts. According to Walas, early drafts of The Fly II focused on Martin's moral dilemma of using someone else's DNA to repair his own, but the studio demanded that he quash that plot in favor of a more formulaic creature feature. With its focus on Martin's devotion to fixing the problems caused by both himself and his dead father, Outbreak could show fans glimpses of the sequel we might have seen if Walas were permitted to follow his initial concept.
At its best, the first issue of Outbreak revisits some of the creepier aspects of the previous two movies. In the sequel, Anton Bartok places himself as Martin's adoptive father so he can emotionally manipulate the kid genuis into unlocking the secrets of Seth's telepods; this sets up the "just deserts" nature of the film's conclusion, where Martin uses Bartok's DNA to cure his own condition while at the same time changing Bartok into the very thing his biological father was--a horribly disfigured insect-human hybrid. This abusive adoptive father/son role comes back into play in Outbreak, and it sets in motion the main plot of this five-issue miniseries.
What I don't like about the first issue is its mechanical, abbreviated pacing. The first issue is designed to bridge the gap between the end of The Fly II and the new story, but each page feels more like bullet points in a plot outline than a naturally progressing story (e.g., introduce returning characters on page 1, introduce new characters on page 2, introduce the new problem on page 3, etc.). This issue could have used an extra five or six pages to let the story breathe and come into its own. Also, while menton3's artwork has a surreal, nightmarish quality to it, his design for the insect-human hybrid that appears in the first issue should have been better. It looks more like a C-list Spider-Man villain than something you'd expect from a Cronenbergian body horror film.
In spite of the first issue's shortcomings, its conclusion sets Fly fans up for four issues of gene-splicing, stomach-turning insectoid horror for four more issues. I can't wait to see what happens next.