Monday, August 18, 2008


David Lapham’s Silverfish

To start with, all I knew about this graphic novel is that it’s something that Vertigo’s been teasing for a while without a clear date, much like “Alcoholic”, “Sentences” or “Incognegro”. I knew that David Lapham has made himself a name writing and drawing "Stray bullets" but the only thing I read of him has been a story-arc on "the Darkness" that was very strange and surreal but also worked better than most of other stories in the second volume of the series. Now I see that the what he did there was break continuity and do his own thing which is why it was interesting and original. Anyway, what brought me to Silverfish was the back cover blurb that was very brief but also strange in a completely original way:

“With her dad and new stepmother, Suzanne, away for the weekend, Mia Fleming finds her stepmother’s secret possessions: an address book, a stash of money and a knife caked in blood. As Mia begins to unravel Suzanne’s twisted double life, she unleashes a Pandora’s box of horrors when she phones Daniel, a sadistic killer who believes he has a demonic fish living in his ear…“

The story is in black and white, much like most of David Lapham’s other work, it starts out slow but it builds on, having a proper length of 150+ pages and it never seems cluttered. A lot of (back) story is told, and usually in conversations at that but most of it very intersting, and even than the book picks up the pace in the frequent silent action scenes. The whole thing ends up a real page-turner even though the art can be a bit rough in some places. The supernatural elements perceived by a character are handled in a very reader-friendly way which in most books can get a bit heady and more mysterious than is good for them.

The characters are quickly established, most of them familiar movie archetypes that work well in the context of the story, with the only flaws being visually in the relative similar way the two best friends, Mia and Veronica look and narratively in the way of their buddies, a couple that plays a very small role in the plot after vanishing completely without any mention in the second part of the story.

The action movie set pieces are all there and there is nothing wrong with them – the fear of the past and it’s present implications is fueled by the physical isolation while the ending takes place in a memorable locale previously established that actually adds to the psychological effect of the supernatural on a character. One of the characters also has a disability that serves the story well to add to the tension in a way that is perhaps a bit of cliché too but handles itself well and proves useful by not drawing too much attention to itself, while very importantly pumping up the atmosphere.

The graphic novel is similar in a way to Dark Horse’s recently released “the Secret”, but while that mini-series’ plot starts with a series of prank calls that is also where two stories part ways, this one not turning out a take on a Scream-like horror story.

“Silverfish” is set in the late 80ies around New Year’s eve in the same way that films like “Donnie Darko” do – it looks like 80ies and feels like a product of that time but remains universal in all the ways that matter.

What should be clear by now is how much the whole thing works like the movie, everything about David Lapham’s story works like a very visual movie-pitch and a modestly budgeted one in the best sense of the term. The Vertigo imprint does not shy away from their tendency to produce sophisticated genre entertainment, so this should come as no surprise.

As for the merits which make this a mature readers story, they are on the level. The story is deeply disturbing and shows graphic violence at times while shying away from exploiting it along with it’s protagonists’ bodies. The sex is implying to have taken place and is part of the story but there is no nudity I can think of, which is very telling in it’s own right, considering none of the mostly female characters are objectivized, keeping to their realistic outfits and, most importantly, acting and behaving like real people.

Finally, at its heart this is the story of the way people trying to secure the best place in life for themselves and deserving that trust told from the point of view of ordinary teenagers and balanced by the use of a frequent contemporary paranoia trope - the serial killer. When all is said and done, the story lives up to what it’s set out to do, being a very entertaining and griping thriller, preciously rare in the American superhero dominated comic book industry.

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