The first thing I’ll say is this: If you really want to keep the Django Unchained movie experience just that – a movie experience – wait until after you see it to read this book. As Quentin Tarantino explains in his introduction to this comic, this is a straight-up adaptation of his original screenplay, with all the extra meat that he had to cut still intact. So while there will be inevitable differences between the two, this is still pretty much what I’d imagine is the first 20 minutes or so. That being said, this was a pretty entertaining comic book.
First the negative – the opening scene of King’s rescue of Django (shown in the trailers) suffers from something that simply doesn’t work in comics, which is the only real instance of this screenplay-to-art adaptation going south without some sort of adjustment for comics. King’s dialect isn’t made clear, yet the characters he interacts with reference it constantly, despite they themselves speaking in a southern dialect. It’s odd that the dialogue isn’t adjusted to better reflect this; in spoken dialogue, of course, this isn’t an issue. But reading it on the page is vastly different, and this is a perfect example of why there should’ve been a writer involved in the adaptation process.
But with that out of the way, Django Unchained #1 works quite well as a comic. R.M. Guera’s art is a natural fit for this seedy, hate-filled world – honestly, it does feel like a sibling of Scalped, which speaks volumes to what Guera was able to bring to that series. You’ll find the same hard-hitting brutality in Django, with Guera’s deep and heavy blacks formulating a bulk of the pages. Jason Latour steps in to do the brief flashback panels that are scattered throughout the issue, and his equally gritty albeit totally different style is a fitting companion to Guera’s work.
The dialogue is a little heavy at times – again an area that should’ve been adjusted to fit the space constraints of a comic book – but for the most part Tarantino’s sharp banter translates well. The relationship between King and Django is established quickly and efficiently, while also giving the characters distinct motivations in mere pages.
One surprising benefit of this book is that it actually has some great supplemental content for the $4 it will run you (though, apparently the digital version is $5 for some reason). First is an introduction from Tarantino, who tosses out his comic book knowledge for anyone that might doubt him. Next is a mini-poster of Jim Lee’s variant for issue #1, which is actually able to be torn out without ruining the story, since its opposing pages are ads. And finally, there’s a neat 3-page sketchbook from Guera that would normally be reserved for the trade. It’s almost like a Django fanzine.