Monday, March 01, 2010

The Nobody by Jeff Lemire

What if the main character of the Invisible Man was a modern-day scientist who ran to a tiny fishing village to escape his crimes? That is the basic premise of "The Nobody".

Vicki is a teenager living in the town of Large Mouth, named after the fish you can catch. But when a man completely wrapped in bandages under his clothes comes to stay at the local motel, he has no choice but to go to Vickie's father's bar and grill for meals- to go, that is. That's where Vickie sees him, and she finds him something of a wonder, so later she goes and knocks on his door to meet him.

Their first meeting is awkward, but she learns he was a chemistry professor before his accident, and they quickly become something like friends, hanging out together in his room watching movies. Vickie asks him about his background, but that's the only thing which he won't share in depth. He seems very sad when she mentions it, and she quickly apologizes for causing him pain, which she didn't want to do.

But the rest of the town is not so sanguine as to the identity of this drifter, and everybody wants to know his business or pretend they know what he is doing there. Vicki's father, at first wanting to leave the stranger alone, becomes upset when he finds Vicki has befriended him and is spending time with him.

But when a woman in town goes missing, the ire of the townsfolk is aroused, and they believe Griffin has abducted or killed her. Vickie warns him, then wants to leave the town with him when he leaves. But now believing that Vickie is being taken against her will by the strange and sinister masked man, the town's men believe that only death is good enough for Mister Griffin. But can this tragedy have a happy ending? And can Griffin and Vickie escape the town before the wrath of the town's men can fall upon them?

I liked the idea of the Invisible Man being updated to the modern day, but it also brings up questions whose answers, as given in the book, make less sense in the modern day. For instance, why go with bandages instead of women's makeup and/or contact lenses? Even if he couldn't cover his eyes with makeup, the bandages stayed visible when they touched his skin, so why not foundation, concealer, a wig, etc.? They didn't have these when the Invisible Man was originally written, but nowadays?

Aside from that, though, I rather liked the retelling. The Invisible Man does kill in this one- an ex-colleague of his who wants the invisibility formula. But he never goes the kind of bugnuts insane that the original Griffin does in the original novel, and while the Original Griffin was rather high-handed and less than a sympathetic Character, this Griffin comes across as a very sad, pathetic and lonely individual, cut off from everyone, even the woman he loved.

The comic ends much as the book did, but Griffin's death reveals how strange the minds of people living in small towns can be, and comes across rather elegiac when Griffin's now visible body is pulled from the lake where he died. The crisis that precipitates his hounding and death turns out to be nothing much, but Vicki ends up much less innocent about life, having been exposed to the seedy underbelly of Big Mouth. No one is blamed for his death, and everyone gets away with it, and the beating of another innocent man, so the ending has her much more cynical as well.

I enjoyed the book, as the story was different in many places from the original H.G. Wells book, but still very much enjoyable, if sad. Being befriended by Vicki, the most innocent character in the story, does much to redeem his character. He doesn't abuse her, unless you count when he kisses her, thinking in his delirium that she was the woman he loved. This graphic novel left me feeling sad, but I did enjoy reading it. Recommended.

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