The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky’s first graphic novel, is the requiem for the director’s dream of a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster. When the financing for a $70 million mounting of Aronofsky’s Fountain screenplay dried up, Aronofsky figured his massive tale of the Tree of Life for dead and sent the abandoned script to Vertigo Comics, who hooked him up with painter Kent Williams. When the finished film finally reaches screens sometime next year it will be a significantly leaner picture. In comics, where artists are only limited by imagination, Williams was free to interpret Aronofsky’s original concept as lavishly as he liked.

It’s safe to say Williams’s extravagant vision will exceed Aronofsky’s in a few ways, primarily in the area of male nudity. It’s hard to imagine the Fountain film featuring the hero’s genitals so prominently, if not for ratings restrictions than for the simple reason that floppy cock shots (in outer space, no less) tend to deflate the emotional impact of high-minded science fiction. Serious to a fault, Aronofsky’s temporally trifurcated tale follows a Spanish conquistador, a modern-day cancer doctor, and a futuristic nudistronaut on quests for the key to eternal life. Until some satisfying final-act twists, The Fountain nearly drowns in its own pretentiousness; even the outrageous $40 cover price seems designed to impart the book with a gravitas that the content itself doesn’t provide.