Underground Reading: Death Trap by John D. MacDonald
Underground Reading: Sara's Face by Melvin Burgess

Graphic Novel Round-up: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

The Life Eaters David Brin and Scott Hampton's The Life Eaters and Si Spencer and Dean Ormston's Books of Magick: Life During Wartime.

The Life Eaters (Brin / Hampton): David Brin's short story, "Thor Meets Captain America" was nominated, rightfully, for a Hugo. It is an unusual - and bleak - take on alternate history, in which the Norse Gods pop down from Asgard to help Germany in World War II. In The Life Eaters, Brin adapts his own work into a graphic novel, and then extends the adventure.

Scott Hampton's work is stunning - beautifully painted scenes that do their best to add a certain Alex Ross-like gravity to the subject material. Unfortunately, he doesn't have much material to work with.

Brin, although an author of considerable talent, struggles with the comic book medium. Vast swathes of text dominate each page, and the graphic novel only intermittently drops down for brief interludes of dialogue and violence.

As a whole, The Life Eaters is awkwardly paced. The first half is a direct transposition of the short story into illustrated form - rather than a translation into the comic medium. The second half is stilted and rushed, like Brin just mailed a stack of notes to Hampton and called it a day. Whereas the first half is at least a decent story (if not a good comic book), the latter half of The Life Eaters is almost incomprehensible (and this despite the presence of expository text on every page).

Comic books are a medium - just like books, movies and television. Just as a good comic book can make a very bad movie, a good short story can make a terrible comic book. 

Books of Magick: Life During Wartime - Book One (Spencer / Ormston): One of the many, many sequels to the long-running Books of Magic series by John Ney Rieber. An intentionally adult story, Spencer's Tim Hunter is a brash young Londoner, working in a pet shop with a pretty uninspiring life devoted largely to A-class drugs.

While the most powerful magician in the DC Universe is snorting his life away, John Constantine, Zatanna and a few others are fighting off a cosmic invasion of really unpleasant fairy-folk. The war threatens the magical 'multiverse', including parallels of modern Jerusalem, Iceland and Eastern Europe. Although Tim Hunter is safely secluded in the 'real' world, he's soon embroiled in the conflict.

The plot is complex and the action oscillates rapidly between John Constantine's besieged forces, Zatanna's espionage activities andTim Hunter's sordid everyday life. The connections between the three are unveiled (slowly), although the full scope of the war goes largely unexplained.

Spencer excels at creating jaded, worldly protagonists in a seedy modern London. A success in Vinyl Underground, this makes for a daring, and ultimately disappointing, reinterpretation of the Hunter mythos. Spencer's Hunter is late-series Harry Potter - angsty, shouty, privileged and ultimately unlikable. Add in the drugs and sex, and Hunter becomes even more alien. Yet, somehow, everything in the book revolves around him - both as the legendary 'chosen one' and as the centerpiece for his uninteresting clique of friends.

Molly's transformation from a fiery, gutsy character to Hunter's useless girlfriend is equally depressing. In the original series, she was brave and competent - heroic despite the fact she lacked Tim Hunter's occult powers. In this reinterpretation, she's window-dressing. Or undressing, as the case may be.

For fans of the original series - and I'm not sure who else would ever pick this up - Books of Magick: Life During Wartime is a let-down. Although Spencer and Ormston are both experts, this series strikes almost every possible wrong note.