The second graphic novel based on the massive wrestler, Closer to Heaven gives Andre Roussimoff a lot more character than Box Brown’s biography did. It verges on soap opera at times, but it’s a welcome trade-off for the more personal narrative the reader gets.
It’s important to preface this review with the acknowledgement that while it’s important to judge a book on its own merits, it’s going to be next to impossible to ignore the fact that just a year earlier another graphic novel about Andre the Giant was released. The specificity is just too much of a coincidence. So there will be inevitable references to that work. Like, through the whole review. Maybe right now even.
It’s obviously the art that immediately jumps out and does a flying body slam on the reader. Where Brown’s graphic novel was a whimsical tumblr style romp, this is a heavy duty, fully articulated and intense retelling of the giant’s life. Brown’s book was an episode of Adventure Time. This is a Oscar contender directed by Darren Aronofsky.
It’s unabashedly broad and deep, screaming “prestige” with every panel. Bathed in muted sepia tones and framed with camera-like shots, it doesn’t hesitate to show off that it means VERY SERIOUS BUSINESS. This is a Hollywood production through and through: the action is intense, the drama is high-stakes, and the conflicts are suspenseful. And whether or not it’s better than Brown’s version is 100% subjective. Some readers will find the polished big budget feel cheesy, while others will be far more engaged with it than the staid Life and Legend.
One minor note- there are quite a few instances in this book where Roussimoff looks downright menacing, even in situations where he’s not in the ring. It gives the proceedings a dark air that conflict with the more personal tone this book is trying to convey.
That’s another major difference from the Brown novel. This one is written from a first-person perspective, like a memoir. The events covered are largely the same, so it’s neat to see how they’ve been depicted in both versions. This book is far more verbose though; the captions floating around in every frame can make it feel a little crowded. Where Roussimoff barely spoke in Life and Legend, here he’s a monologue fiend, a chatterbox. Another case of big budget storytelling, and it’s up to the reader to decide if they prefer their words dense or sparse.
One aspect that should be inarguable is that this book flows very well, and ties disparate stories together in a strong fashion. Some of them might be a little hamfisted but there’s no odd non sequiturs thrown in to throw off the momentum. This ain’t no Wes Anderson joint. It’s all telegraphed vividly for the audience.
So in the end it’s entirely up to the reader and their personal preference for Andre the Giant biographies. If detailed art and wordy, emotional protagonists are your thing, this is the biography for you. If you prefer subtlety in both art and storytelling, then perhaps the Brown version is a better fit.
Final Grade: A