One would think that a graphic novel (of sorts) featuring Stephen King and old-school comic book style drawings would be a homerun for a guy like me. I mean, I’m a comic book nerd of yore. I can name all the Robins who have worked with Batman. I knew what adamantium was before a Broadway singer/dancer played the Cannuckle Head from Weapon X and Alpha Flight.
As for King? I read Night Shift and Frestarter in seventh grade and haven’t looked back. I have devoured nearly everything he’s written since, and have loved almost all of it. The man can flat out suck you into his world(s) with great writing, he just so happens to write horror (which is more than okay with me, I mean look at the name of this Blog, right?).
So, combining graphic art with Stephen King storytelling should leave me gushing, right?
Boy howdy, do I wish. I’ll start with what didn’t work for me so I can end on the more positive of what does work. First, the point of view is just so distant. At no point does the reader get involved with this story. The narrator is so ethereal and stand offish it’s like watching some kind of bizarre newscast of werewolf attacks, but that doesn’t even capture it. There isn’t any emotion.
That lack of emotion continues through most of the story until we get to July and finally meet our protagonist. Marty Coslaw is the only featured player in the months that mark the chapters of this story who lives. He scares the beast, the werewolf, off with his own personal fireworks show. In the process he claims one of the creature’s green eyes.
Now, the focus of the story: the werewolf. His attacks are ferocious enough. He strikes with all the grisly intensity one expects of the bestial alter ego werewolves are to embody. The pictures are spot on too. I mean, the drawings look like the classic werewolf: wolf face and head, fur covered body, long claws. The green eyes are a nice specific touch.
But the wolf is random. He attacks out of nowhere. There is no connection to the victims. The reader doesn’t even know the victims until they are introduced in the same chapter in which they meet their bloody demise. Unfortunately the victims are cardboard cutouts because of this.
The reader has no one to root for, no one to care about until July, or halfway through the book. One hopes that we will then stay focused on Marty, but the story meanders to Constable Neary in August, a surprising turn in September when farm pigs satisfy the werewolf’s thirst for blood, and then back to Marty at Halloween in October. The wolf kills out of town in November, again taking us away from Marty, and finally we get our resolution in a December filled with silver and broken glass.
Werewolf stories generally study the duality of man: the civilized gentleman versus the creature hiding just beneath the surface who is insatiable, passionate and dangerous. Granted, all werewolf stories don’t have to do this, but this werewolf is just so sedate. In his personal life he is the last person you’d expect to be a bloodthirsty creature (that is a nice touch), but he is nearly emotionless about his transformations. He is evil in his rationalization, but his thought process and feelings are so subtle and understated it really takes a great bit of the emotion (the passion) out of the tale.
Now, what worked? I loved the chapters ticking off the months of a single calendar year. King apologizes in my copy saying he knows the full moon doesn’t coincide with all the holidays and special days in his story, but he just couldn’t resist using the familiar holidays to mark time. I don’t blame him one bit for using the holidays and putting full moon werewolf activity on the holidays. The thought of lunar accuracy never occurred to me. Don’t care about that if the story is working.
I also liked the grisly details of the kills. Without emotional connection to any of the characters, ironically, the only emotional response I could get from this book was the kills themselves. Constable Neary gets it in an especially bad way: “It swipes at him with one clawed hand – yes, he can see it is a hand, however hideously misshapen, a hand, the boy was right – and lays his throat wide open. Blood jets over the truck’s windshield and dashboard; it drips into the bottle of Busch that has been sitting tilted against Constable Neary’s crotch” (81). Blood in your beer. Bummer.
Again, if anybody should be howling to the moon about the levels of awesome this story provides, it should be me. Alas, it was too distant and too emotionally stunted for me to get fully invested. Ironically, I wonder if it was the mixing of the media that did this? Did the pictures dotting the story distract me or not allow my mind’s eye to develop the visuals I needed to see?
I thought about this after I read it and my eye wandered over to my bookshelf to spy the seven volumes of Stephen King’s Gunslinger saga, his magnum opus. The painting and drawings that are interspersed throughout those tales don’t take away from the story. That story, all seven volumes of it, is just flat out awesome. Pictures or no pictures it works.
No, the werewolf doesn’t howl in this one for me. It is a rare miss from the King.