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Monday, June 16, 2008

cover of I Am Legend

This is a graphic novel adaptation of Richard Matheson's famous 1954 novel (which I haven't yet read but now want to). Robert Neville is the only uninfected, normal human left in a post-apocalyptic world (there are hints of bombs and dust-clouds in his flashbacks) where all other humans have been infected by a disease that basically turns them into vampires. The black and white artwork conveys beautifully the darkness and the utter loneliness of the world that Neville lives in. When the book opens, Neville has an established routine of the errands and tasks he does during the daylight (including repairing any holes in his boarded up windows, growing garlic in his hot-house, and stringing garlic around the doors and windows), but is always inside and locked up by dusk, usually playing classical music in attempt to drown out the noise of the monsters that congregate outside his house to try to lure him out. Eventually, Neville starts to move beyond this routine-- he starts researching the infected blood and reasons through how much of the vampirism is biological and what might be psychological (like fear of the cross and mirrors), and he starts hunting and killing as many vampires as he can during the day, while they are in their coma-like sleep.

There are great details here that make the whole world Neville inhabits much more convincing. For instance, on cloudy days he can't go far from home because he doesn't know how soon it will be dark enough for the vampires to come out. Or how a little thing like a watch stopping could mean death. Neville goes to abandoned stores for whatever equipment he needs and can salvage (like the microscopes he uses to study the infected blood), and he drives at high speeds, goes the wrong way on one-way streets, etc-- rules that were necessary in society become meaningless when he is the only man left.

What makes this story is compelling is the human element. Neville is tortured by the loss of his wife and child to the plague, and some of these experiences are shown through flashbacks. When Neville sees a thin, scared, stray dog in the daytime is nearly overwhelmed by the desire to have companionship. Over days and weeks he slowly, patiently gets the dog used to him, feeding him and moving closer to the food while remaining utterly still so as not to scare the dog off. Finally he manages to bring the dog into his house, and as night falls the dog is terrified because it can't get to its hiding place (and, of course, doesn't know that the house or this man is safe). Neville is finally able to touch the animal, and discovers that it is infected.

The other brilliance of this book, of course, is the twist of the title. Eventually (after three years of this existence), Neville discovers that the infected humans have figured out a way to live with their disease and are beginning to establish a new society-- and as he is dying, he recognizes that he has become to this new society what vampires are to us: the legendary, horrific monster that comes in while we are asleep and kills for no reason.

Title:I Am Legend
Author:Richard Matheson (adapted by Steve Niles and Elman Brown)
Date published:1991
Genre:Graphic Novel, Science Fiction / Horror
Number of pages:244


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