Graphic novel, graphic scenes

Dave Bartlett
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‘Utopia’ unearths a fiendish conspiracy in an ultra-violent world

I won’t dare say I’m a fan, but I’ve certainly read a good few graphic novels and really enjoy the long-format — usually adult themed — comic books.

(From left) Alexandra Roach (Becky), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Ian) and Adeel Akhtar (Wilson Wilson) star in “Utopia.” They are fans of a graphic novel who become embroiled in a sinister plot outlined on its pages. The British series is violent and intense, yet has created a lot of buzz. — Submitted photo

They certainly have become a medium in their own right in the last two decades or so.

Several have been made into movies — writer Alan Moore alone has disassociated himself with three of his titles that have appeared on the big screen in recent years: “Watchmen,” “V for Vendetta” and “From Hell” — an incredibly detailed work, in its original form, about Jack The Ripper.

The tiny text and black and white art in the two-inch thick book is intimidating, but worth the read.  

So, last spring when I heard Space was airing a British series that was based on, or had something to do with, a graphic novel, I set up my PVR to record the six-episode series. And then I let it sit there.

About six weeks ago, I decided it was time to watch it or dump it and put on the first 90-minute episode. I stopped after the very violent opening scene where two assassins question and kill the employee and patrons of a comic book store.

They’re looking for a manuscript and a woman named Jessica Hyde.

I was kind of intrigued, but it wasn’t what I was in the mood for at the time. In fact, it was not at all what I expected.

This weekend, I tried again and made it through the first episode. Again I was intrigued by the story of a dark syndicate hunting for the missing manuscript of a graphic novel that will expose a conspiracy so deep that the lives of those who get in the way of those who want to keep it secret are less than worthless.

The manuscript is actually a sequel of an underground graphic novel called “The Utopia Project,” written by a schizophrenic geneticist after he was locked up in an asylum. Shortly after the book was finished, the writer/artist committed suicide.

While the first book is about a conspiracy, most readers just like it as fiction, but a few wingnuts believe the story to be real.

When a member of an online fan group named Bejan posts he has the manuscript for the unpublished sequel, he offers four other members the chance to take a look, and they arrange to meet.

Meanwhile Michael, a high-level bureaucrat in the Ministry of Health, is blackmailed to bring down his minister. Kidnappers have his wife, and they appear to be the same ruthless people who are looking for the manuscript.

After the first episode, the connection between the two stories is just hinted at, but it certainly gives weight to the conspiracy theory.

As Michael is given his assignment in half-coded conversations with other officials, three members of the online chat group meet in a pub to see the manuscript: Becky, a PHD candidate who is writing a thesis on “The Utopia Project”; an IT guy named Ian who lives with his mom; and a conspiracy theorist named Wilson Wilson.

The fourth fan, Grant, goes straight to Bejan’s with intent to steal the book. He’s just a kid — though he’s a foul-mouthed, hot-tempered little brat whose home-life, we’re told at one point, is troubled.

Grant arrives just after the two assassins from the comic book store begin to question Bejan about Jessica Hyde. While they’re occupied, Grant grabs the book and runs.

I won’t give any more away about the plot.

Critics have largely liked “Utopia,” and the show has been renewed for a second season. Last month, HBO announced an American version of “Utopia” was in the works.

But I’m in no rush for anything that intense for the moment. The first show has both a graphic and disturbing torture scene and the most hilariously awkward sex scene I think I’ve ever seen, but the two don’t balance each other out. They add to an engaging, yet twisted tale.

At this point, I haven’t decided if I’ll keep it parked on my PVR, or track it down later when I want something a little more edgy.

On a somewhat related note, NBC also announced last month that the superhero series “Heroes” would return in 2015 in the form of a mini-series, to which I ask why?

I really loved the show when it started, with its large cast of characters who had to “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” But the Season 1 finale was so disappointing I could never get into it after.

However, I thought I’d rewatch that first season on Netflix. Maybe it was because I knew what was to come, or maybe because the show isn’t as good as I remember, but I didn’t get past the pilot.

Again, maybe it was a not-in-the-right-mood moment, and maybe I’ll give it another go when I’m feeling goofy. Or maybe I’m getting a little bored with the superhero dominance of pop culture these last few years.

Send ideas for irreverent comic book heroes and their zany powers — and other correspondence — to Dave Bartlett at talkingtelevision@gmail.com.

Organizations: Ministry of Health, NBC

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