John Lennon, musician, legend, influence that stretches far and wide, messiah, pariah, master of wit, innovator, trailblazer… comic book character?
That’s exactly what Bluewater Productions tries to do with these adjectives and descriptions to bring to comic book life of one of the most enigmatic and forcefully creative individuals of the 20th Century (or arguably any century for that matter) with Orbit: John Lennon.
Bluewater, known for their prior work immortalizing many famous figures in its colored etchings within squares, now tackles the larger than life figure in Lennon. But, they unfortunately make the same clumsy errors here that deterred the other biographical comic book treatments that also attempted to mythologize public and famous figures from all stripes.
Lennon, who grew up from a humble background in Liverpool, England, to become arguably the most well known and controversial and creative figure of The Beatles, had an equally intense and adventurous life after the group broke up in 1970 and went their separate ways. From that time until December 8th, 1980, when an assassins bullets silenced the man forever, Lennon’s solo life was labyrinthine, and this comic tome tries to take us down that snaky road.
Starting as the Beatles were on their last legs, just as he consummated his marriage to Yoko Ono, we start to go down Lennon’s memory lane. (Lennon narrates the entire comic book from “heaven” by the way, with his Abbey Road period look when he was in The Beatles firmly intact). We get the whole “This is Your Life” treatment here, him holding a “Bed In” for Peace in Toronto in 1969, which became a true media circus, to Primal Therapy sessions a few years later, which led to his stripped down and seminal Plastic Ono Band album. Then, following a quick dabble in radical politics upon moving to New York City, (which caused the FBI to start monitoring his activities) his life tides shift. A well publicized break up with Yoko in the mid 1970s caused Lennon go to Los Angeles, to sample all the debauchery that city had to offer by way of Sunset Strip and regions close in raunchy proximity, with his and Ono’s “personal assistant” May Pang in tow.
By 1975, he was facing deportation charges due to his prior radical behaviors. He and Yoko reconciled their marriage that year, which spawned their only child Sean. This provided Lennon with an outlet to stay at home and become a “househusband,” in essence retiring from making music. But his resurrection back into the public and musical eye came from an epiphany he had on a late 1970’s trip to the Far East, which acted as a muse for him and spawned his last album, the 1980 release “Double Fantasy”. Exhaustively, this comic tries to squeeze all the tidbits of those aforementioned moments and then some.
But that’s just it, it tries too much and gives too little. There really isn’t much in terms of revelation here, writer Marc Shapiro, who has been cranking these biographical comics out kind of assembly line, give us a “Just the Facts Ma’am” in the style of the presentation of its narrative, kind of like a Joe Friday rundown, never commenting on the facts, always treading lightly and cautiously to avoid controversy, which is ironic considering how provocative and controversial a figure Lennon was. And all throughout, this is coupled with art that takes key imagery even the layman Lennon fan has seen countless times, and presents it within the comic book panels on the page in conventional and self-consciously slapdash ways.
The art by Luciano Kars also takes a lot of liberties, even casual Beatles fans will notice that some drawings of Lennon which are supposed to reflect a certain time period in his life do not look like the Lennon OF that time whatsoever.
Also, this art ranges from some really good caricatures and portraits of Lennon (and key figures in their life during that time) to ones of slumming abandon; it’s as if Kars thought as long as he drew SOME pictures which looked a lot like Lennon, he could get away with doing some with a little (and in some instances a LOT) less verve, and the comic suffers ultimately from the uneven tone. And there isn’t arguably one drawing of Yoko Ono that even remotely looks like her either.
Unfortunately the tone of the art AND the writing becomes rather melodramatic at the end, with the inevitable artistic indulgences of the presentation of Lennon’s assassination in front of his New York City Dakota home, replete with six panels of “action” showing his assassin shooting at him, and Lennon wincing from the shots, his long hair blowing in the breeze, even though his hair was shorter when the real event took place. This is followed by a panel where we see John’s bloodstained glasses, from a real picture taken from the cover of a Yoko Ono solo album entitled, “Season of Glass.”
I understand that it’s a comic book treatment here of the man’s life, and because of such, certain creative liberties can be taken. But in short, other than that nifty opening in which Lennon sets the tone with his narration, there isn’t much here that you haven’t heard before. So that said, this comic book is a quick and nifty read for those who want what essentially amounts to a Cliff’s Notes version of John Lennon’s life. But those that know the man’s rich history know that the only way you can truly encapsulate his life is by doing anything BUT a Cliff’s Notes version.