Every culture and every nation has its heroes, and the heroes of antiquity are often the most impressive. Alexander Nevsky, a 13th century Russian noble who led a military campaign to drive out Swedish invaders at the tender age of 19, is still celebrated in his native country. Further successes in combat ultimately elevated Nevsky, a minor royal who had little claim to the throne, into the role of Grand Prince, and, finally, to the crown. His leadership helped unite Medieval Russia, and legendary film director Sergei Eisenstein released an eponymous film about Nevsky in 1938.
Now, 750 years after the Russian hero's death, writer Ben McCool and artist Mario Guevarra have adapted Eisenstein's "Alexander Nevsky" into an original graphic novel, on sale May 9 from IDW Publishing. "Nevsky: Hero of the People" will recount Nevsky's greatest battles, while also emphasizing certain aspects of his life not seen in the film. CBR News spoke with McCool about the project.
"I'm a huge fan of classic cinema," McCool told CBR. "I've been familiar with Sergei Eisenstein's work since college (the origin of my tremendous passion for movie history) and the inspirations drawn from his films are notable in directors as diverse Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas.
"'Alexander Nevsky' is Eisenstein's most commercial work, although that's not to say it's his most simplistic; in telling the story of Nevsky's great triumph over the invading Teutonic Order, he also stirred up the Russian people at a time when a Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union seemed inevitable," he continued. "So it's as effective a piece of propaganda as it is a historic epic!
"To be able to bring this classic tale to a new generation of readers is a wonderful opportunity, especially in the medium of comics; I'm genuinely excited about this project. Plus it's an exciting story filled with battles, double-crossing and great characters!"
Eisenstein's inspiration for evoking a national hero from an earlier era may have been rooted in Russian culture of the time, but McCool sees Nevsky as a character with inherent appeal. "Alexander Nevsky is revered to this day as one of Russia's most significant figures, and remains an inspiration to the country and its people," the writer said. "In one sense, his story is akin to 'Braveheart' -- he rallied the proud people of his home nation and led them to victory over a much better equipped army of trained soldiers. His skill on the battlefield was equaled only by his tact and guile when plotting strategy; it was his intelligent use of terrain, conditions and troop placement that enabled his band of warriors to defeat the Germanic invaders.
"Nevsky was both Prince of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Vladimir during some of his nation's most testing times, and was officially proclaimed a saint some three hundred years after his death," McCool continued. "In other words, Nevsky was a man of grand achievement."
While Eisenstein offered a definitive version of Nevsky's life, McCool said the Russian hero's story is worth revisiting in a new context and a new medium. "Eisenstein's work was extremely important in the early days of cinema, incorporating a new sense of grandeur and dynamism to onscreen battle sequences," McCool said. "Though his work may be considered highbrow to a modern day moviegoer (or at least, a commercial one) I believe both Eisenstein's legacy and his films deserve to be presented to a contemporary audience in stylish, accessible and (hopefully) fun fashion!"
With an Eisenstein film, it's easy to get into lofty discussions of Cinema, and McCool said that he and Guevarra will strive to emulate this in the comics form. "To me, the final act of 'Alexander Nevsky' is its most critical: the epic battle sequence. Not only did it allow Eisenstein to showcase his cinematography skills, but also demonstrate the film's characters' most integral periods of growth and development," McCool said. "So of course, I've tried to pay homage to this in the graphic novel while also adding a fresh spin of my own."
"Nevsky: Hero of the People" is on sale June 27.