Tuesday, August 4, 2009


I kept trying to like Neverwhere, but never got anywhere.

When it was first announced, there was still a healthy post-Sandman glow to Neil Gaiman, and he had a lot of love coming his way. Fortunately, Gaiman appears to be a thoroughly nice and decent bloke and he didn't piss away the love from the geek world, like many of his predecessors had a habit of doing. He used what cache he had to go his own way and seemed pleasantly surprised to find an audience, even for such esoteric works as Mr Punch.

Then there was Neverwhere, and while it featured many fine touches, it ultimately didn't work as well as it should. A decade on and the original television series doesn't hold up at all. The difference in production values between the series and something like the current Doctor Who series is staggering, if only because the BBC figured out that shooting things on dodgy videotape and lighting everything like its a veterinarian's surgery doesn't exactly help matters.

Gaiman did a much better job with the novel, and it certainly helped that The Great And Mysterious Beast of London was left to the reader's imagination, and didn't look like an old bull destined for the slaughterhouse. After getting the kick up the arse from a Terry Pratchett collaboration, Gaiman showed some real skill in the pages of this novel, setting himself up for a respectable career as a serious novelist who writes fantastical books.

There was still an itch to be scratched there and as Neverwhere was primarily intended for some kind of screen, movie versions of the tale rose and fell in various states of pre-production, never quite materialising in front of a camera.

A couple of years back, when the chances of seeing a film looked remote, (but before Gaiman's work appeared on-screen in Stardust and Beowulf), Vertigo went back to one of its favourite sons. The concept was given another airing with a comics adaption, with the workman prose of Mike Carey keeping things moving and some occasionally sublime work from Glenn Fabry, who came up with some fantastic character designs.

This last adaptation was arguably the best and even then, it's far from perfect. The story takes a long time to get going before just shuddering to a stop. While this could be a symptom of Gaiman's legendary skill for quiet denouncements (and the fact he's never meet an anti-climax he didn't like), it still feels like the end could have been given more room to breathe.

It could be the characters and while it's admirable to cast a egotistical little runt of a man as the main character, he is still bloody unlikeable. Door, the Marquis and a small army of supporting characters are a lot better, but Richard is such a twat, and his decision to return to the real world shows that while he may have become the greatest hunter of all time, he is also an annoying little bastard.

Maybe it's the concept itself and the idea of a homeless society that just doesn't really work. While it is certainly a strong one, it might be served best by taking it easy for a while. Instead of pushing out new versions trying to capture Gaiman's original idea of an under-city of the homeless and the metaphysical, maybe it could be left to rest and simmer for a while.

Neverwhere will still be there, the next time somebody decides to give it a go.


zom said...

Can't say the homeless community with darque fantasy trappings ever appealed to me much as a concept. In fact I'm now wondering if it wasn't all a little bit immoral. After all I can't imagine a community that needs truthful representation more.

I might be being unfair.

Bob Temuka said...

Oh, Gaiman was always aware of the danger of ever portraying the homeless as glamorous and dialed up the fantasy components to distance it from reality as much as possible. He talked about it a lot whenever he was promoting it. He didn't want 16 year old nerds drowning in the Thames while searching for hidden societies that didn't exist.

For an excellent look at the life of the homeless, I have to recommend Marc Singer's Dark Days documentary. It's an excellent film.

Zom said...

I have seen. It's absolutely amazing

Islington Comic Forum said...

Not to be too unfair to him but China Mieville's Kraken is pretty good as a sort of Neverwhere Part Deux. Secret side of London and all that: (altho obviously that's pretty much every Mieville book out there).