Dostoevsky Comics — Crime and Punishment (2009)
Writer: Fyodor Dostoevsky
Artist: Robert Sikoryak
Would you be interested in an apocalypse where Jon Arbuckle is Dr Faustus and his pet cat Garfield is a lasagna-munching, wisecracking Mephistopheles? Or those remarkable purveyors of smut, Beavis and Butt-head, waiting for Godot? Would you, perchance, like to see good ol’ Charlie Brown waking up from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed into a monstrous vermin?
If your answer to one or all of these questions is yes, you need to check out the work of American artist Robert Sikoryak (who signs his work as R. Sikoryak). In his 2009 book Masterpiece Comics, Sikoryak pulls off a remarkable feat of artistic and cultural ventriloquism: he adapts a string of canonical literary works: from Dante to Beckett to Shakespeare, using characters and visual idioms from some of the most recognisable comics of all time: Peanuts, Superman, Batman and Garfield among them.
Perhaps the most intriguing adaptation in this book of wonders is his take on Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, drawn in the style of the Bob Kane-Dick Sprang Batman comics of the 1950s, an era often referred to as the “Golden Age of Comics”.
In his 2009 book Masterpiece Comics, Sikoryak pulls off a remarkable feat of artistic and cultural ventriloquism: he adapts a string of canonical literary works: from Dante to Beckett to Shakespeare, using characters and visual idioms from some of the most recognisable comics of all time: Peanuts, Superman, Batman and Garfield among them.
Rodion Raskolnikov, Dostoevsky’s idealistic, tormented protagonist, is referred to simply as “Raskol” here, and he swings his axe after putting on the famous cape-and-cowl Batman costume. It’s important to remember that Sikoryak compresses the essence of the novel in just 11 pages. The crux of the book is the philosophical bind that Raskol finds himself in: is it right to employ extraordinary harsh or cruel measures to fight injustice? In Raskol’s own case, the injustice is the extreme poverty that he and his family find themselves in; his mother is neck-deep in debt to support his education. Is killing the evil, usurious pawnbroker justified?
Sikoryak, through his choice of comics filter, is telling us this: putting on a mask not only makes it easier to execute a terrible but necessary task, it is also symbolic of the psychological schism that such a task brings about. Is Raskol’s dilemma really all that different from the scene in Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, where Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) is horrified at Batman (Christian Bale) using advanced telecom technology to spy on every single mobile phone in Batman? Fox says, “This is too much power for one man” and we share his sense of unease; unfortunately for Raskol, his own conscience does not prick him until his axe claims the lives of the pawnbroker and his step-sister.
Sikoryak gives quite a bit of footage (considering it’s an 11-page strip) to the article that Raskol writes a few months prior to committing double homicide. As fans of the novel will remember, the article works well as a sort of prologue to the Bruce Wayne/Batman story. Raskol explains the core of his article thus: “There are two kinds of people — ordinary, those of conservative temperament, and extraordinary, those with new ideas! Extraordinary men may transgress the law and eliminate obstacle that prevent them from sharing their discoveries with the world.” Elementary, my dear Bruce, you might say.
There’s also a sly nod towards the Batman-and-Robin-as-repressed homosexuals theory: Sikoryak transforms Sonya the streetwalker to Sonny, a transvestite prostitute who dresses up in the red, green and yellow Robin ensemble and begs Raskol to confess and earn his redemption.
This angle is somewhat less convincing, but on the whole, Sikoryak’s adaptation works at both the superficial and the intellectual level. Everything’s better with Batman in it, didn’t you know?