Saturday, December 08, 2007

Book Review | Graphic Novel version of Richard Matheson's "I am Legend"

So who decides if you are human? Is if enough that each person holds on to the unshakeable belief that he or she is human? What if everyone else thought that you were not one of them? Does that shake your beliefs or do you hold onto them with a vice-like grip -- afraid that your last attempts to stave off insanity must mean that you must hold these beliefs closer than ever?

Richard Matheson's "I am Legend" forces us to ask the question - if everyone else on the planet is alike and you are the only one who is "different," then who is really human - you or them? What if all of them were bloodthirsty vampires out to kill you? Every single one of them! Since you are obviously in an abject minority, does it really matter that you believe that they are "freaks"? Does it give you the right to decide that their lives are not worth it and your is more important?

These questions hit home; uncomfortably so in fact in this book. When it is in the stark black and white that is the graphic novel adaptation from IDW by Steve Niles and Elman Brown, there is no question that this is not just any other "cool" vampire book.

This book will dispel any preconceived notions about graphic novels or vampire stories. The protagonist is not a muscle-bound super-smart guy who uses cool technology and martial arts moves to bring down vampires. Robert Neville is just another small town guy who has suffered the loss of his wife and daughter to the vampire manifestation (or is it a "virus"?) and has to survive being hunted down every night. He's neither good looking, nor does he have a technology expert helping him hunt vampires. He does so the old-fashioned way -- shaping wooden stakes from planks and putting up garlic cloves everywhere.

He has to constantly fight his all too human urges -- fires within his loins for instance. This is a facet that keeps him tottering on the edge. Whether he will give up all attempts at humanity and rape a female in sleep or if he can control himself -- are positions that he must constantly evaluate and painfully so. He does try to attack the problem analytically to understand the "scientific" issue of vampirism even while facing failure from time to time.

Is he right in trying to preserve his ideas of right and wrong? Does he have the right to kill vampires in their sleep? Are they now the "humans" on the planet and he an aberration? How does one man fight an entire planet?

The movie adaptation with Will Smith will have a tough time keeping up -- not just with the original book, but more so with this "visual" adaptation. They already seem to have started on a wrong note by making the protagonist "Dr." Robert Neville - trying to infuse some sort of intelligence to tackle the problem. Well, I won't prejudge the movie until I see it, but the graphic novel adaptation sure does look like a tough act to follow.

If you haven't read this book, then well, you should! And it is also a good book to show those people who believe that graphic novels are for prepubescent teenagers to salivate over hot babes/superheroes in tight costumes. This book shows that quality graphic novels can achieve a level of storytelling that is often hard to beat.


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