Written by Denise Mina
Based on the novel by Stieg Larsson
Art by Leonardo Manco and Andrea Mutti
Cover by Lee Bermejo
Hi folks, long-time no review so I thought I’d climb back onto the reviewing horse by talking about a book that caught my eye a few weeks ago. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Volume 1from Vertigo is the first in a two-part adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s crime novel of the same name. Volume 2 hits shelves this month, while volumes 3-4 and 5-6 will adapt the other two novels in Larsson’s Millennium trilogy (provided these first two volumes sell half as well as the original novels did).
I have a confession to make from the off: I haven’t read Larsson’s novels yet. I’ve seen the Swedish films / TV series starring Noomi Rapace as well as David Fincher’s American version and I’m a big fan of both. As a result, if I am going to compare this adaption to anything it’s to other adaptations of the book and not the original.
The story, for those unfamiliar with it, is set in Sweden and follows Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced journalist who is hired by an aging industrialist to solve the decade’s old murder of his niece. We also meet Lisbeth Salander: our titular girl with the dragon tattoo. A social outcast and professional researcher who crosses paths with Blomkvist while she helps him investigate the case. Mikael is, to use fan fiction terminology, a Mary Sue for author Stieg Larsson. Larsson drew on his profession as a journalist and his knowledge of the darker side of Swedish life to tell his tale of the evil people do, particularly that men do to women. This is not a book for the faint of heart. The violence, portrayed so harrowingly in the film adaptations, is present here and is for the most part is just as traumatic.
One-time Hellblazer writer and novelist Denise Mina does not try to put her stamp all over this story and change it dramatically in her adaptation yet sadly neither does she bring much new to it. If this came before any other visual version of the story then there would have been much more room to add something new. As the graphic novel comes late to the party it doesn’t only have to compete with memories of the novel but also of the work of the filmmakers who have added their spin so far. If this story is all new to you then I think you might find the writing more surprising and interesting.
The first thing you notice about this book is the terrific Lee Bermejo cover that shows Lisbeth and her fabled tattoo. Mysterious, dangerous and sexy; this is one of those covers that sums up many of the elements that have made Lisbeth an icon for the 21st century. She is after all a character described by some as a real world superhero (a title I’m not so sure I agree with as Lisbeth’s vulnerability is such a key element to her character).
Once you get past the cover (and damn is it hard to stop admiring such great art) you find the work of Leonardo Manco. His art offers terrifically expressive faces. Often I found myself distracted as I thought about which actors Manco’s characters looked like; I’m pretty sure I spotted Anthony Hopkins and Jason Isaacs in two of the supporting cast. The flashbacks in the book, used to help fill out the back-story containing much of the mystery plot’s clues, are drawn by Andrea Mutti. His art is dissimilar enough to make these scenes clearly different from the present set scenes without being too distracting. It’s a good choice to switch styles for the flashbacks and I commend Vertigo on their choice of artist for this.
In the negative column I’d place the pacing of some of the more harrowing moments. One scene that is familiar to anyone who knows the story is here less drawn out than in the other adaptations. While that’s a relief in one way (traumatic fails to describe how difficult it is to read or watch), I feel it lessens the impact and horror the reader should feel when they get to it. But the biggest issue I have is the chosen format of a two-part graphic novel. I love the self-contained graphic novel and I see no reason a mystery should be split in two like this rather than simply released as one book. If it meant a delay in it reaching stores then so be it. It would have been worth waiting for a completed story; however I fear it was for commercial reasons.
Volume one has certainly got me interested in Vertigo’s adaptations of the Millennium trilogy. Once I read volume two I’ll know for sure if they’re on the right track or if we’d all be better off sticking to the novels and films.
3.5 out of 5 nerds