The Hobbit #1
December 1, 2014
An unexpected journey... unless you read the list of upcoming episodes, in which case it's totally expected.
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. (spreads out arms excitedly) IT'S CHRISTMASTIME!
(He snaps his fingers and to a white flash, Christmas decorations magically appear on the shelf behind him, and his attire now has a Christmas theme to it: a green jacket, a red vest and a red tie (but no Santa hat on his fedora this time))
Linkara: And as you can see, I'm all decked out for the holidays! We've decorated the place with so much Christmas that Santa is telling me I should tone it down a bit. And what better way to get into the festive season than with the most Christmasy of all stories: "The Hobbit"!
(Footage of the then-concurrent Hobbit series of movies by Peter Jackson is shown)
Linkara (v/o): What? [J.R.R.] Tolkien is totally Christmasy! There's the snowy pass over the Misty Mountains; Gandalf and Saruman have big, long Santa Claus beards; and Gollum represents the dangers of greed and materialism over love and companionship.
Linkara: (holds up hand with resignation) Okay, let's be honest: I'm doing this because the damn movies have been released every December, and the final one is coming out soon, so this is my best chance to cash in on it before the public stops caring about it.
(More footage follows)
Linkara (v/o): And of course, the Hobbit movies themselves have been polarizing for people, but let me give some quick backstory on the off-chance you've avoided the Lord of the Rings franchise. The series takes place in the fantasy world of Middle-earth, full of elves, dwarves, goblins and various other magical creatures. One such creature is the titular Hobbit. They're small people, even smaller than dwarves, known in particular for not wearing shoes because of the thick, hairy feet they have. We're focused mainly on the Hobbits of the Shire, a small village in the country...
(Editor's note: "Yes, yes, the Shire IS the country. My mistake.")
Linkara (v/o): ...where Hobbits live in little houses built out of hills. Various kingdoms make war with one another or are cold allies as they seek their own agendas, and every character has at least fifteen different that you easily get confused about.
Linkara: Yeah, the names thing is something even bizarre for a fantasy story. Who does that, having so many different names they go by? It'd be like saying, "My name is Linkara, or Lewis, or Psyweedle, or Thickmaster, or That Guy With The Hat, or That Unfunny Guy Who Reviews Comic Books On the Internet." (smiles coyly)
Linkara (v/o): And much like the expanded universe of Star Wars, every character of even minor import has an intricate backstory and name, even if it really is not necessary. But there are entire reference books devoted to the subject. But fortunately, we won't have to cover any of that for this one. The big controversy about the Hobbit movie trilogy is its length, spreading a short novel into three movies with padding from other material in the franchise by creator J.R.R. Tolkien.
Linkara: Although, one's feelings about it really comes down to personal preference, since, (smiles nervously) if I may be controversial... I kinda like the movies better than the book. (grimaces slightly)
Linkara (v/o): That opinion can always change, and I'll probably get into this more as we progress through these comics, but I personally like the fact that these movies are long and there are three of them. Having finally read the book in anticipation of these reviews – I tried and failed to read it in high school – a lot happens in "The Hobbit", so much so that I fear that if this had been condensed into one movie, it would move far too fast! And no, I have not seen the animated version, so I may be wrong on that point, but in the first hundred pages alone, which today's comic encompasses, you've got the introduction of all the dwarves, the introduction to Bilbo, the dinner scene, the three trolls, meeting Elrond, the giants in the mountain, the goblins, and Bilbo encountering Gollum. Under normal circumstances, for an adaptation, you'd cut some of this out, but the movies take the time do some world-building and some character development, even if it's purely invented for the movies.
Linkara: (looking somewhat annoyed) Because let's be honest here: the only dwarf that matters in the book is Thorin, which is kind of irritating because why the hell did you include thirteen dwarves if you weren't going to DO ANYTHING WITH THEM?!
Linkara (v/o): Some people have told me that the issue is that it's meant to be a bedtime story read to children, with goofy names and funny details, and I can certainly see that in places. However, it makes for a pretty crappy novel if you're sacrificing novel structure and elements strictly for it to be read to others. But even as just a funny bedtime story, I have problems with it. I don't know, maybe my childhood was different, but I wouldn't settle for this kind of tedium as a child. The reason I couldn't finish it when I was younger was because they shoved in all the dwarves without establishing any characters or distinctness other than beard and hood color. I knew more about what kind of jam and beer they ordered than I did their characters! You give me thirteen character names and I expect them to actually be characters and not just funny words, because I live in a world where, in stories, characters actually have to have a reason to be a part of the story! And if you weren't actually going to actually make all the dwarves have their own unique personalities, why did you bother to include that many?! If you wanted humor, why not just have one dwarf with a single, really long name? In fact, I think it's actually funnier that way: Thorinbedoringlorinpaporintatorin... Oakenshield. I have another big issue where I prefer the movies to the book, but I'll get to that later because this is becoming a rant.
Linkara: And obviously, the rest of you have your own feelings about it and are free to disagree with me. So, enough about the movies. Let's dig into (holds up today's comic) "The Hobbit #1" and see how a comic from 1990 deals with the adaptation.
(AT4W title theme plays; title card has "Concerning Hobbits" from Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring playing in the background. Cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): The cover is basic, but enjoyably bright. It looks kind of like concept art for the movies, with Gandalf talking to Bilbo. The hobbit hole looks straight out of the films. I really should rewatch the special features of the movies to see where they got the design work for this stuff, but I already had to do additional reading for the sake of this review. And even then, it's more just trivia at this point. One thing that does bug me is Gandalf's hat. Oh, don't get me wrong, the book does describe his hat as blue, so you can't fault the artist for getting the details right. It just seems odd to me that someone who goes by the name "Gandalf the Grey" has more color to his attire. I mean, what do the two blue wizards that are a part of his order wear? All blue except big red hats? Are we sure that it's just Saruman whose of many colors? And then of course, there's the pipe that Bilbo is using down there. Do you really need a pipe that's as long as you are tall? Or is this actually a bong?
(The comic opens to the first page)
Linkara (v/o): We open in the Shire, with text lifted straight from the book.
Narrator: In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
Linkara: Property taxes were surprisingly high for (makes a "finger quote") "a hole in the ground".
Linkara (v/o): And that's most of the first page: just narration lifted wholesale from the book about hobbits and their habits, while our protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, smokes on his front porch.
Linkara: You know, it's lazy drug addicts like this that are bringing this entire community down! (cups his hand over his mouth) Get a job, Bilbo!
Linkara (v/o): Bilbo's attention is taken away from his narcotics at the arrival of Gandalf the Blue-Hatted.
Bilbo: Good morning!
Gandalf: What do you mean? Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?
Linkara: Gandalf the Pedantic!
Linkara (v/o): Bilbo answers that he means all of them at once, which is probably the best way to deal with this sort of situation, and invites Gandalf to sit and get high with him. However, Gandalf turns him down since he's busy looking for people to go on an adventure.
Linkara: (incredulously) Where the hell were you when I did the "Zolastraya and the Bard" episode, Beardy?!
(Cut to Linkara in his adventure attire from that episode)
Linkara: (running down the hall) ADVENTURE!
Linkara (v/o): Bilbo declines the adventure and once again says "Good morning," but now Gandalf is pissed because it's clear that he's just trying to get rid of him. Bilbo denies that, claiming he doesn't even know his name.
Gandalf: Yes, you do, Bilbo Baggins, though you don't remember that I belong to it.
Linkara: (as Gandalf, wearing a white beard) The brainwashing should have handled that at least.
Gandalf: I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me.
Linkara: (as Gandalf) And the wonderful thing about Gandalfs is that Gandalfs are wonderful things.
Linkara (v/o): Hearing his name shakes loose some of Bilbo's memories, and while he's not interested in going an adventure, he does invite Gandalf to tea the next day. After Bilbo heads inside, Gandalf starts scratching symbols into the door.
Linkara: Gandalf's marking the territory for his gang.
Linkara (v/o): Well, now we know where Gandalf rests on the question of graffit – fun or dumb.
Linkara: (as Gandalf, holding out a cane, as if imitating his scratching symbols) "For a good time, call Gandalf..."
Linkara (v/o): There was a hobbit hole here. It's gone now. Okay, let's move on. The next day, at tea time, Bilbo is greeted at the door not by Gandalf but by two dwarves: Balin and Dwalin. Wait a second, the book says that Dwalin arrives first, not that the two arrived together! Boo! Zero out of ten! Worst adaptation ever! Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, none of the individual dwarves actually matter, aside from Thorin, so we get a sequence of dwarves arriving and ordering food, until we have thirteen of them and Gandalf in the place. And this is Thorin himself and, like Gandalf, has decided to put on lots of blues. The only description I could find for Thorin in the book was that he wore a blue hood with silver tassels in his bit, so I guess it's not too far off to extrapolate that the rest of his outfit was blue as well. Of course, if you look at this panel, it appears Thorin and Gandalf are related, or at least Thorin is a Mini-Me version of the wizard. Anyway, now that everyone is here, they lay out the plot. Long ago, Thorin's grandfather was a king of a dwarf country under a mountain. They grew immensely rich from their mining operations and traded with a nearby city called Dale. Unfortunately, the riches attracted a giant dragon named Smaug, since dragons are greedy assholes who love gold and riches.
Thorin: And they guard their plunder as long as they live (which is practically forever), and never enjoy it at all.
Linkara: Smaug would later be haunted by three spirits – which he then set fire to.
Linkara (v/o): The dwarves were driven from the place and now this company needs to head back to the Lonely Mountain and, as Thorin puts it...
Thorin: ...bring our curses home to Smaug – if we can.
Linkara: (as Thorin) Plus a considerable amount of back rent payments.
Linkara (v/o): Bilbo is being hired on as a burglar for them to gain entry, though he's rather iffy on the whole idea. And thus, after the dwarves begin singing their song about going over the Misty Mountains to reclaim their gold...
Linkara: Yeah, if you're not aware, Tolkien friggin' loved shoving songs into his books. Or rather, he enjoyed shoving poems into his books, since it's still the same old complaint I have when it happens in comics: IF THERE AIN'T NO MUSIC, IT'S JUST READING LYRICS!!
Linkara (v/o): We find that the next morning, the dwarves have all left. Bilbo is at first disappointed by their departure, but then recalls that he didn't really want to go on the trip to begin with. However, Gandalf soon arrives.
Gandalf: My dear fellow, it's half past ten! Whenever are you going to come? They left you the message because they could not wait.
Bilbo: What message?
Linkara: (reading a letter he has with him) "Dear Bilbo: Going to the movies without you. Do your own damn vlog on it. P.S., Sorry about what we did to your toilet last night." (looks up, horrified)
Linkara (v/o): Actually, it's that they had to head out to an inn first to prepare themselves, but have laid out the terms of his employment with them, including one-fourteenth of the profits, and expect him to be at the inn at 11 AM. As it happens, it's 10:50 AM, so Gandalf rushes him out the door despite Bilbo multiple times attempting to object to this.
Linkara: Gandalf the Overbearing.
Narrator: That is how they all came to start, jogging off from the inn one fine morning just before May.
Linkara (v/o): With a picture of Trogdor the Burninator as their standard. The group proceeds on their way through strange lands, Bilbo growing more appreciation for adventure. The comic leaves out the part that Gandalf made sure to grab a bunch of his stuff before they left so Bilbo wasn't left with just his hairy feet as his only gear. However, his tune changes on the next page, when they're up in a cold, wet, gloomy hill with the dwarves having difficulty lighting a fire.
Bilbo: Oh, bother burgling and everything to do with it! I wish I was at home in my nice little hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!
Linkara: (as Bilbo) At first, I didn't think I'd like the kettle radio my mother bought me, but now I can't live without it!
Linkara (v/o): Gandalf has wandered off to go help Radagast... in the movie, anyway; in the original book, he just disappears at random... and the dwarves soon spot a light in the distance. Deciding to be pricks, they send Bilbo out to investigate the light.
Thorin: Now scuttle off, and come back quick, if all is well. If not, come back if you can! If you can't, hoot twice like a barn-owl, and once like a screech-owl, and we will do what we can.
Linkara: (as Thorin) If it turns out to be some hot dwarf women or mermaids, make a sound like a howling wolf. If it's just Gandalf or some fairies screwing with us, make a noise like a dying giraffe. Now, the next three possibilities involves sounding like you're both quacking and choking, so...
Linkara (v/o): Bilbo gets in closer and discovers that it is in fact three trolls cooking mutton over a fire.
Troll: Never a blinking bit of manflesh have we had for long enough. What the 'ell William was a-thinking of to bring us into these parts at all, beats me.
Linkara: (as this troll) Sometimes, William, I don't even remember why I married you.
Narrator: After hearing all this, Bilbo should have gone back quietly and warned his friends that there were three fair-sized at hand in a nasty mood...
Linkara: (as narrator) But he really wanted to see where they were going with all this (makes a "finger quote") "eating manflesh" thing. It sounded delicious.
Linkara (v/o): Instead, Bilbo decides to once again change his mind on his new vocation and do some burgling. He sneaks over to the back of the trolls and tries to steal a pouch tied to one's belt, but of course is quickly caught. Bilbo, in his panicked state, indicates that there are others nearby, but the trolls are kind of stupid and so just spend their time arguing with one another about whether they should just eat him or look for the others. As a result of all their yelling, the dwarves start coming by a little at a time to investigate what happened, with only Thorin remaining to actually try, you know, NOT charging in and actually sneak up. Everyone else is quickly captured. Unfortunately, while Bilbo is able to tell him what's up, Thorin too is taken. Despite them all being taken, the trolls are still being idiots and arguing with one another. A ghostly voice also proceeds to poke the bear... er, troll, and get them to keep arguing until the sun comes up, turning all the trolls into stone, without any dwarf or hobbit devoured. It was actually Gandalf, who had returned to save their collective asses.
Narrator: The dwarves had to hear Bilbo's account of what happened to him twice over, before they were satisfied.
Linkara: (confused) Why? Did they think that Bilbo was trying to cut a deal with the trolls?
Linkara (v/o): Gandalf points out that the trolls must have a cave nearby where they would normally shelter themselves from the sunlight. They proceed there, discovering a huge stash of loot that the trolls must have found from previous encounters. This includes not just gold, but weapons, too. (the "item collect" sound from The Legend of Zelda plays)
Thorin: Carry the gold outside. We'll bury it for our return trip.
Linkara: (confused) Uh... isn't the entire point of this trip to acquire gold to begin with? Why would you need gold on the return trip unless you failed. And won't your chances be better if you bring it with you for supplies?
Linkara (v/o): Examining the weapons shows they were clearly not made by the trolls and possess some interesting runes on them. Gandalf also explains that what he was actually doing scouting ahead and met up with the elves at the post of Rivendell, who reported the trolls' presence to him and extended the invitation to the party to stay there for a bit.
Bilbo: Hmmm! It smells like elves!
Linkara: (sarcastically) In an elven city?! Who'd'a thunk it?!
Linkara (v/o): I wonder what elves smell like exactly to make them so distinctive. Given the company being kept and the journey with horses and in the woods and swamps and everything, maybe it's just like a showered person. Then again, we also see that there are a crap-ton of elves. When you get right down to it, we don't actually see a lot of elf civilians in the movies. It's either the royalty or the military. You don't see a lot of just regular townspeople like this. They're too busy standing somewhere in a spotlight and posing dramatically. They stay at Rivendell for two weeks and meet Elrond... who doesn't look anything like Agent Smith. Or maybe he just melted. Anyway, he examines the weapons they retrieved and suspects, based on the runes, that they were made in the Goblin Wars. I'd give you the names of the swords, but honestly, at this point, if you're not familiar with this setting, it's just nonsense baby talk I'm throwing at you at this point. He's also able to decode their map, which is protected by a special magic. They can only be unveiled if the light that shines on them is the same as the moonlight they were originally written in.
Linkara: Which is really awkward if you accidentally fall asleep while writing it and in the morning, you forgot where you left off.
Linkara (v/o): The map indicates that the keyhole to the secret entrance to the Lonely Mountain will come upon the last light of Durin's Day, a holiday celebrating when the last moon of autumn and the sun are in the sky together. Admittedly, the tone here is quite different in the movie, since there, everyone else seems quite against the party's march to claim the gold, but here, they're perfectly happy to let them go on their way. And really, why not? Worst case scenario: they fail and are all horribly burned to death by a dragon's fires. Best case: they rid the land of a terrible monster and reestablish commerce and trade. Anyway, the party makes its way over the mountains, as more narration from the book fills things in. Spirits are a bit low for Bilbo, seeing as he's off in a cold, gloomy mountain instead of frolicking in the Shire without war or traffic accidents or whatever. There's a little bit that's been abridged here that mentions how the dwarves were equally feeling depressed but had earlier spoken of how excited and optimistic they were.
Narrator: Only Gandalf had shaken his head and said nothing. Dwarves had not passed that way for many years, but Gandalf had. And he knew how evil and danger had grown and thriven in the Wild, since the dragons had driven men from the lands, and the goblins had spread in secret after the battle of the Mines of Moria. Even the plans of good wizards like Gandalf and of good friends like Elrond go astray sometimes when you are off on dangerous adventures over the edge of the Wild. And Gandalf was a wise enough wizard to know it.
Linkara: It's passages like that that make me question the idea of "The Hobbit" being a simple fairy tale for children or the like. Again, if it's just supposed to be something for little kids, why is it taking the time to point out how things have gone downhill so much in the land and that it's hard to remain optimistic? GUYS, WE'RE ON A TREASURE HUNT, ASSHOLES! SMILE!!
Linkara (v/o): But enough of that; time for more lighthearted adventure in the pouring rain as giants that are never referenced in any of the other books start hurling boulders at one another. To try to escape the onslaught, the group manages to find a cave that they hide in. However, in the middle of the night, while they're asleep, the group is attacked by a horde of goblins.
Narrator: There were six to each dwarf, at least...
Linkara: Hmm, that's a good exchange rate.
Linkara (v/o): The dwarves are carried off by the attack, but Gandalf is able to easily repel the ones heading for him. Unfortunately, he's too late to rescue the others, who are dragged down the mountain and into the presence of the goblin king.
(Cut to a clip of Labyrinth)
Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie): (singing) I saw my baby, crying hard as babe could cry...
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Oh, but if only. No, we got this bobble-headed bastard. Thorin tries to bluff his way out of this situation since they're severely outnumbered, claiming to be just trying to visit some relatives on the other side of the mountain and they were just in the cave seeking shelter from the storm. However, since the sword he was carrying actually has the reputation of being called the Goblin-Cleaver, the goblins are dubious as to his claims.
Linkara: Quick, just tell him that you're really accurate cosplayers!
Linkara (v/o): The king orders their deaths, but the goblins' torches go wild, causing a panic. The group seizes the opportunity and make a run for it with the aid of Gandalf, who's responsible for the torches. They run as fast as they can, but Bilbo is slower due to his size and has to be carried on the backs of the dwarves, switching between them to keep them energized, and fighting off goblins along the way. Unfortunately, the goblins start getting sneakier and stealthier, setting another ambush for them. In the chaos of the situation, Bilbo falls down a hole and is separated from the others. As his hands scrape around in the dark, however, he finds something.
Bilbo: A ring?
Linkara: (dramatically) Bilbo Baggins, you are the bravest little hobbit of them all. Welcome to the Green Lantern Corps.
Linkara (v/o): He pockets the ring, not wanting to worry about it right now.
Narrator: It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it.
Linkara: (smiling) Clearly, only good can come from finding this!
Linkara (v/o): He briefly wonders where the others are and whether he's the only one left.
Bilbo: At least I still have my pipe. If only I can some match–
Linkara: Okay, Bilbo, I think we need to stage an intervention about your drug problem.
Linkara (v/o): Checking his own sword, which glows in the nearby presence of goblins, he uses the light of it to travel through the tunnels. Eventually, he comes upon a small cavern with a lake in the middle of it.
Bilbo: I don't hear the sound of running water, so it is a pool or a lake, and not an underground river I've found.
Linkara: (as Bilbo) Man, I talk to myself a lot. Next thing you know, I'll be talking to that ring or something.
Linkara (v/o): However, from the lake emerges a small boat with a gnarled creature sitting in it.
Narrator: He was Gollum – a name he got for the horrible swallowing noise he made in his throat...
Linkara: (sarcastically) Well, how nice of you to mock his respiratory tract infection.
Linkara (v/o): Bilbo confronts Gollum and wants to know a way out of there. Gollum, however, invites Bilbo to stay and talk with him for a bit.
(Cut to a clip of the game Diablo II)
Deckard Cain: Stay awhile and listen.
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): In particular, he suggests they play a game of riddles. Bilbo agrees.
Gollum: What has roots as nobody sees, is taller than trees, up, up it goes and yet never grows?
Linkara: (as Bilbo, stroking chin) Hmm... I'm going with Godzilla.
Linkara (v/o): Nah, Bilbo answers that it's a mountain, which is, of course, the correct answer. And so, our comic ends with Gollum suggesting a competition: they'll keep exchanging riddles with each other, and if he [Bilbo] wins, Gollum will show him the way out. And if Gollum wins, he gets to eat Bilbo!
Linkara: Ooh, not good, Bilbo. Your only chance to save yourself is to get Gollum incredibly high. (closes comic and holds it up) Anyway, this comic is... actually pretty okay, if not outright good.
Linkara (v/o): My criticisms are pretty much the same as with the book: the lack of characters for the dwarves, the speed and number of events that seem to fly by very quickly, and Gandalf regularly saving their asses as a deus ex machina. The artwork, however, is really damn good, and aside from a few passages here and there, the narration text is lifted word-for-word from the book. Same with a lot of the dialogue.
Linkara: That being said, we do have (holds up two fingers) two more issues to go through. Tune in next week, and we'll see if the comic medium proves the superior adaptation for people.
(End credits roll)
So how the hell did the ring get so far down a tunnel away from Gollum? Was it compelling him to chuck it like a baseball?
Just saying if you're going to have superfluous characters, why not limit it to 2 or 3? Why THIRTEEN?
(Stinger: The panel showing the goblins talking about the Goblin Cleaver is shown)
Goblin: Orcrist! The Goblin-Cleaver! Biter! The thrice cursed sword of the elves of Gondolin! Murders and elf-friends*! SLASH THEM! BEAT THEM! BITE THEM! GNASH THEM!
- NOTE: Linkara reads it as "Murderers and elf-fiends", which may have been what Tolkien had meant.
Linkara: (as goblin, raising fist in the air) BOIL THEM! MASH THEM! STICK THEM IN A STEW!