Book Review: The Man Who Fell to Earth by Dan Watters and Dev Pramanik

The creators of this new graphic novel were faced with three apparent approaches to its production: craft an adaptation of the original Walter Tevis novel, adapt the film by Nicolas Roeg starring David Bowie, or generate an entirely new reimagining loosely borrowing the original concept. Writer Dan Watters proceeded with the middle option, using the most well known previous incarnation of the work as his template for a straightforward retelling of the film in comic book form. That approach includes artist Dev Pramanik utilizing Bowie’s likeness as the lead character, ensuring additional interest from Bowie’s legion of fans who otherwise might have overlooked the graphic novel.

Bowie portrays an alien who has been stranded on Earth and sets out to use his technological superiority to create amazing inventions with the goal of amassing a fortune large enough to build a spaceship to return home. Unfortunately, he’s in America, so he soon runs afoul of government goons who aren’t keen on having a suspected alien among us, especially a wealthy and famous one.

If you haven’t watched the film, the new comic is a fine introduction to the story, although since it follows Roeg’s at times bewildering film, it also suffers a bit from occasional lapses in coherence. The story is presented without narration, leaving it to the reader to figure out time jumps and character relationships, and as such keeps readers at arm’s length rather than fully enveloping them in the plot. 

As for the art, Pramanik contributes a workmanlike effort that tells the story efficiently but with very little dynamic panel composition or character art. It has the look of a generic British comic book, or a licensed genre effort by lesser American publishers, with bland, undetailed backgrounds, character models, and expressions that get the job done but little else.

Paradoxically, the book is at its best after the comic is over, since it contains a hefty bonus section including many behind-the-scenes stills from the film, some of which have never before been published. An enlightening essay about the difficult film production is interwoven throughout the pictures, making for a delightful and engrossing surprise, even though it seems like it would be more suitable in a Criterion release of the film than the back of a comic book. Among the fascinating tidbits included is the reveal that both author/director Michael Crichton and Peter O’Toole were originally considered for Bowie’s role, mind-boggling alternatives that would have radically altered the film.

The book also includes some bonus pages on the making of the comic, including character models, cover concepts, and script excerpts along with art progression from preliminary sketches to finished pages. Although the art isn’t exactly award-worthy, it’s still a welcome touch to see some of the massive behind-the-scenes work needed to translate the story to the comic book page.

The Man Who Fell to Earth is now available from Titan Comics. While written broadly enough to be accessible by any interested reader, it’s best for Bowie fans and readers with no prior exposure to the story.

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Steve Geise

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