Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: The Laughing Corpse – Book One

What good is our legal system if it doesn’t apply to each member of the population? More specifically, why have the living dead been exempt from any and all legal persecution up to this point? That’s the question the city of St. Louis was asking itself when it appointed Anita Blake to the shiny new position of vampire executioner. Hey, if these night walkers can’t observe regular business hours and refuse to defend themselves in a court of law, we as a society have no choice but to hunt them down in the streets, to speak to them in the only language they seem to understand. Am I right?

Jess Rufner’s adaptation of a Laurell K. Hamilton novel provides an unexpected and awkward blend of genres. Having never read the original series, this marks the first time I’ve been privy to a story that mixes courtroom drama with back-alley horror, hard-boiled action and crime fiction. It’s constantly struggling with this identity crisis, and while the frequently shifting mood provides a lot of variety, it can also be difficult to navigate. This issue can’t settle down to tell one central storyline, so it scatters its thoughts across a handful of side-plots and tries to pass it off as one single, cohesive arc.

For a series that’s based on a popular series of novels, this isn’t even all that well written. The issue doesn’t make it through its first sentence before slipping over a typo, and outside of Anita herself, the characterization is extremely shallow. The book’s dialog is another stumbling block – once again with the exception of Anita herself, everyone speaks in perfectly proper, stiflingly straightforward English. On one hand, it makes the lead character seem much more down to earth and relatable than everyone she shares the page with. On the other, the rest of the cast seems to have been scripted by third graders. I couldn’t name two people I’ve ever met who speak this rigidly, but Anita knows a whole roomful.

Ron Lim provides smooth, serviceable artwork that’s stylish but not entirely fitting. He gives each member of the cast an original look and feel, which is easier said than done when you’re dealing with this many attorneys. Anita doesn’t have a very broad range of facial expressions (she’s either smiling ironically or grimacing) but she at least maintains an air of intelligence, which is crucial to the story. Since every panel from cover to cover is narrated, typical of a novel-to-comic translation, Lim is never really given a moment to cut loose and impress us. What he’s left to illustrate instead is often dry, straightforward and visually uninteresting. He doesn’t do as much as he could to improve the situation.

For a book featuring a smart protagonist, a trio of wildly different, colorful situations and a bloody murder scene, this really wasn’t all that exciting. Sometimes what works in type doesn’t always translate to an illustrated work, and I fear that’s the case here. Because Anita, our eyes and ears into this world, is always kept strong, solemn and physically unresponsive, it’s tough to develop a reaction of our own to the story. Whether she’s trying on a new dress or walking in on a dismembered corpse, Blake wears the same businesslike demeanor, and her readers follow suit. There’s a lot going on here, but I couldn’t get excited about any of it. This is worth a flip through at best.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.5

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