Saturday, September 8, 2012

Spandex Is So Three Days Ago

But don't fret. It'll be back once I finish gushing over The Supernaturalist, a graphic novel adaptation of Eoin Colfer's young adult novel of the same name. Here, the Artemis Fowl author is joined by scribe Andrew Donkin and Italian artist Giovanni Rigano, whose future-shock art caught my eye in New England Comics weeks ago.

That said (and with zero knowledge of Artemis Fowl), I read this expecting nothing special plot-wise. Flipping through the world of Satellite City, its sloe-eyed ragamuffins and bejeweled filth are reminiscent of the anime classic Akira. Rigano's penciling, as seen in this half-sized hardcover, conveys endless detail with a manic line quality. It's gorgeously exotic, dropping you into a more fully-rendered realm than is offered by most monthly comics.

Then you meet Colfer's surprisingly deft concepts, one after another, and they whip eye-candy into a tasty find indeed. The term Supernaturalist refers to someone who's had a near death experience, and comes back able to see the bright blue parasites infesting Satellite City- "a supercity of twenty-five million people with everything the body wants and nothing the soul needs." Our hero Cosmo Hill, while escaping from the Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys, eats 10,000 volts from a utility wire before hitting a rooftop. In and out of consciousness, he sees globular blue beings surround him.

Enter Mona, Stefan and Ditto- hunters of the supernatural. They zap the parasites sucking the life from Cosmo's chest and bring him to their squalid HQ on Abracadabra Street. They fix his fractured skull with Robotix plates (from an armored tank), and render him, certainly as far as heroes go, hideous. By way of explaining the parasites, they really don't. Stefan, the group's leader, says their origin is unknown, and they appear whenever someone's injured or in danger, ostensibly to drain that person's life-force.

This scene also sees the Akira similarities pile up, as we discover that Ditto, who's the size of a child, is actually an adult bred for ESP talents. Mona, with a DNA tattoo on her cheek, is part of a gang who customize their own street racers (and have parasites perpetually hovering near them, in a great commentary on the fast life).

Colfer achieves these moments of homage perfectly. The colors of Paolo Lamanna, however, are garishly cinematic, and you often forget the The Supernaturalist is original art, not film stills comprising a cheesy ani-manga book (Miyazaki movies typically suffer this fate). Much of his palette relies on sickly green and gold washes, peppered with the blinking neon that evokes video arcades and pool halls. I might call Lamanna a showoff, but why quibble when the story he's helped visualize bounces with creative energy.

My only true complaint is that Rigano's art is clearly meant for a larger page. Staring at length into his panels, trying to see everything, is akin to hearing excited children babble. Hopefully, publishing partners Disney and Hyperion will issue a paperback of somewhat epic proportions- this tale deserves it.

While some of Colfer's best ideas are intellectual parsley, including the "lawyers" who act as corporate storm troopers, rushing to the scene of a disaster with battle gear, the blue parasites are his star concept. They aren't what they seem, and neither is this incredible all-ages story. To wrap up, I'll quote biologist J.B.S. Haldane: "The Universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine."

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