Thursday, April 26, 2007

Graphic Novel Review: "Murder Mysteries"

(Originally published at the Joe Bob Briggs website.)

I first read Neil Gaiman’s short story “Murder Mysteries” in his excellent collection of short stories, Smoke and Mirrors. Now, comic artist P. Craig Russell (who previously worked with Gaiman on several issues of the “Sandman” comic book) has adapted the story into a graphic novel, and brought both the beauty and horror of the story to life in one of the best comics of the last year.

In “Murder Mysteries,” an unnamed British narrator recalls a trip to Los Angeles ten years before. Trapped in a foreign city when all flights to his home country are cancelled due to English fog and snowstorms, he sits and waits. One night, he gets a call from an old “sort-of-girlfriend,” also in town. He has an odd, awkward, sexual encounter with her, and then suddenly finds himself back at his hotel. Unable to sleep, he walks, sits on a bench, and encounters an old man who bums a cigarette and then offers to tell him a story in exchange.

The story of the first murder. And so the story changes...

The old man proclaims himself to be Raguel, an angel, the Vengeance of the Lord. At the beginning of time, in the light of the Silver City of Heaven, the angel Lucifer comes to Raguel and says simply “There has been a ... a wrong thing. The first of its kind. You are needed.” The angel Carasel has been murdered, and the killer must be found.

So begins the investigation, the hunt for the killer, and the quest for Divine Retribution.

Raguel’s investigation takes him to the angels in change of the blueprints for the Universe-to-be. He meets senior designer Phanuel, who takes more credit for creation than he deserves; Saraquel, who worked with Carasel to create the concept of Love; Lucifer, the captain of the guard, who secretly listens to the voices in the darkness outside the Silver City; and Zephkiel, the grand thinker, who sits, ponders and make suggestions, while other Angels go about the physical work of creating the Universe.

The story comes out in bits and pieces: Carasel, who often got too involved in his work, was involved in a new project at the time of his murder: Death.

And then Raguel deduces who committed the first murder. His vengeance, in turn, creates changes in the order of things that only God will understand.

But that is just one murder. The title of this book is plural. An incredibly subtle revelation of the meaning of the title is a final blow that leaves echoes of dread and fear within the reader ... while also leaving room for hope. It’s an amazing story, and it’s quite possible that it works even better as a graphic novel than it did as the original story.

Russell does a masterful job with “Murder Mysteries.” His artwork is lyrical, beautiful, haunting, erotic, energetic and occasionally terrifying. As a writer, he takes Gaiman’s short story, keeps the author’s wonderful use of language, and adds a pacing to the story that transcends the original work and takes full advantage of the medium of graphic storytelling.

Dark Horse has done a wonderful job packaging this book. The hardcover is beautifully bound and printed, and at the same time, quite affordable.

Four stars.

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