Dethklok is one of those cases where this whole trick “transmedia” thing might not work out as well as we’re led to believe. For those not in the know, transmedia refers to adapting properties from one format (movies, games) to another (comics, puppet theater). The problem is that sometimes the elements that drive the original experience might get lost (or necessarily omitted) in translation. Take, for example, the failure of video game-to-movie, Super Mario Brothers. Sure, the movie was terrible in its own unique ways, but part of its special brand of unwatchability came from its lack of fidelity to its source material–source material which was, itself, incredibly narratively thin and hard to communicate beyond the 8-bit experience.
Similarly, Dethklok attempts to translate the humor of a half hour (formerly 11 minute) musical series about heavy metal superstars, their rabid fanbase, and the looming “Metalocalypse” that’s been in the background of the show since it bowed on Adult Swim a few years ago. The bulk of the humor comes from the voice work of series co-creator Brendan Small (who provides the story here), along with the sharp comedic timing and the impressive metal score (for which Small is also responsible). Absent those elements in full, Dethklok feels diminished in a way that’s not helped by a sort of flat script that seems to recycle a plot point from a previous episode of the series.
For those unfamiliar with the show, Dethklok centers on the band of the same name, the biggest musical act in the entire world, who are so rich they have their own mobile fortress, and so out of touch with dealing with real life that they can barely shop for themselves. Equally dumb as they are talented, the band commands a level of fandom that borders on fanaticism. This premier issue of the comic shows the band’s manager, Charles Offdensen–cool, collected, and a sharp contrast with the idiots who employ him–releasing a new line of frozen foods in the band’s name. Meanwhile, the band’s grotesque, socially-awkward bassist, Murderface, discovers Twitter, and that’s literally all I can remember from the book without going back to reread it.
All of the typical elements of a Dethklok episode are here but without Small at the helm it doesn’t work as well. His voice work and timing is, I’d say, about 75% of the comedy, with the writing being 20%, and 5% being the sheer, messed-up violence of each show. Seriously, it’s one of the goriest shows on TV. Losing that, placing it in the context of a comic just isn’t working for me–and I have to wonder how new readers would react to the book given how little context it gives them about the band or the premise. The plot just throws them into the situation and for the most part provides no preamble or setup. It’s not that it’s especially bad, it’s just that it tries to reproduce the show when it should be more of an adaptation of the source material.
If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of Charles Webb’s work at his blog Monster In Your Veins.