Sunday, November 15, 2015

Come Out Neville!


"Come out Neville." is the plaintive call of Ben Cortman, the vampire who seeks relentlessly to lure Robert Neville to his doom each and  every night after the silent fall of society. It's the quiet chant of madness in one of the great novels of the 20th century, a narrative of isolation, madness, and one man's attempt to bring order out of chaos. The story is really Robinson Crusoe but with vampire hordes.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson was first published in 1954. Since that time this novel which portrays the end of the world as we know it as all of mankind is transformed into vampires. Against this tidal wave of night stalkers is one man, Robert Neville, the last true man on Earth.


The novel is divided into four parts. In the first we are a mere five months from the fall of civilization and Neville has barricaded himself in his home with supplies and equipment as he is visited  nightly by vampires led by his former friend Ben Cortman. By day Neville tries to locate food and supplies and kills the vampires he can find and disposing of their bodies. A vast open pyre was established in the last days of civil order and that still smoldering pit is a daily destination, it's also where his daughter's remains are located.  The Neville of the first few chapters is a drunken disorderly brute who is overwhelmed by the situation but refuses to give in to thoughts of suicide.


Later as the months slowly pass he uses his mind and  science to try and find methods to deal with the rigors of his day to day existence and to give some meaning to his daily grind. He seeks to teach himself and then learn about the nature of the vampires and how they came to be. He slowly and with many setbacks learns that the plague is not supernatural but the result of cruel nature in the form of a bacterial infection which changes living things into houses for the maturation and development of the germs. This knowledge gives him some path to follow and makes his attempts to keep and treat a pitiful dog he discovers all the more tragic. Later in part three we are three years into the apocalypse and Neville meets a woman and his life is well and truly transformed. Part four is all about what comes next for the world and for Neville. 


This is a damn great novel. I've discussed it here before many times, the impact it made on me when I was young is still palpable. The surly and quixotic Neville of the novel was captured to some small extent by Charlton Heston in 1971's The Omega Man, but that movie made an absolute hash of the vampires. The original movie adaptation of the book The Last Man on Earth from 1964 gets more of the details of the setting correct but by casting the urbane Vincent Price creates a Neville who is tortured but lacks the savagery we see in the novel. The most recent adaptation from 2007 titled I Am Legend is regrettable in many respects, though at least some aspects the tormented and maddening existence of total isolation is captured. Sadly again the vampires are presented so totally out of character as to utterly change the nature of the situation.


So they got bits here and there, but to date there has been no successful adaptation of this novel despite its power and the fact that its writer Matheson was one of the most successful screenwriters of his generation. Filmmakers seem too distracted by the vampires/zombies/undead to focus on the novel's real centerpiece, the flawed everyman named Robert Neville. It's all there, just waiting for some filmmaker to get it on the screen, they just need to let Neville come out. Sadly I doubt I'll see it my lifetime.

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6 comments:

  1. Jeff Rovin has said that one of the titles he proposed for Atlas Comics back in the 70s was I am Legend. (His idea was to get instant credibility on the newsstands by licensing recognizable properties. He also wanted to do The Spider, Kolchak and the Thunder Agents.) Martin Goodman didn't want to pay the fees, so instead we got Planet of Vampires. ( And the Scorpion, the Cougar and Tower's Tippy Teen, renamed Vicki.)

    I think just about every license he proposed has since been successfully brought to comics, including the above as well as the Avenger and Godzilla.

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    1. Fascinating. That explains why so many of the Atlas books resonated with TV and movies popular in the day. And licenses were likely dirt cheap back then for these, relative to today.

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    2. The one I really don't get is Thunder Agents, since he did buy Tippy Teen. He already had Wood, Ditko and Sekowsky working for him, at double the rates they got at Tower. Atlas could've coasted on reprints and continued with new stuff. Maybe it just wasn't enough like Marvel. which seemed to be an obsession.

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  2. I too was disappointed that they made them zombies in the latest movie.



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    1. Fast zombies can be good,but not in this story and these weren't that convincing.

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  3. Did you know you can shorten your long urls with Shortest and receive cash for every click on your short links.

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