Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, February 8, 2019


A quick post covering two quick reads.

The City by James Herbert; illustrated by Ian Miller (1994)

James Herbert (1943-2013) was one of the most popular British horror writers of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.  His books have sold over 54 million copies, earning him an OBE as well as a Grand Master designation from the Horror World Convention.  Herbert blazed into print with The Rats (1974), a darkly compelling, visceral book about intelligent, organized, mutant rats preying on humans.  Five novels later he returned to the rats with a sequel, Lair.  This time the rats were more of a threat and had expanded well beyond London with their thirst for human flesh.  The Rats Trilogy concluded in 1984 with the publication of Domain, in which the rats have survived a nuclear holocaust, preying on humans in a ruined city.

Herbert's saga of the rats was not great literature but it had the capability of grabbing the reader by the throat and not letting go.  After Domain was released Herbert went on to produce more intricate and (in many ways) nuanced novels.  And, it turned out, he was not done with the rats. giving them a fourth outing in his only graphic novel The City, subtitled The Rats saga continues...

Many years have past since mankind's final war.  The rats have won.  The few remaining dregs of humanity have been reduced to a slave race for the rats.  A ruined yet phantasmagorical city is now home for the slave race, mutant humans, cannibals, the hopeless, and the helpless -- all kept in line by a literal army of rats headed by a giant one-eyed rat with a blazing red eye.  The leader of the rats -- the mother rat -- is an even larger, obese rodent whose lair is in the bowels of the city.

Into the city comes The Traveller, covered in armor and armed to the teeth.  With him are two death-dealing guard dogs, part mutants and part robots.  The Traveller is on a mission to find his wife and daughter, hidden somewhere in the devastated city.  The Traveller battles his way through both two-legged and four-legged rats only to find that even more horrors await him deep in the city.  It's a tale where there are no winners, where there never could be a winner.

There's very little text in The City.  This is a future where words would do no good.  Ian Miller provides an exquisitely drawn city interspersed with violent battle scenes and horrifying creatures.  Herbert's city is bleak and remorseless.  It is also a heck of an effective graphic novel.

Pride of Baghad by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Niko Henrichon (2006)

From rats to cats.

Brian Vaughan is one of the most talented writers in the comic book/graphic novel realm, author of such classics as Y:  The Last Man and Ex Machina.  Here, he takes a true incident from the bombing of Iraq in 2003 when bombs hit the Baghdad Zoo, releasing four lions.  The story is told from the viewpoint of the lions who have the ability to speak to other animals.  No matter how human-like these animals seem with their fears, hopes, and feelings, humans are a race that is unknowable and unknowing, especially when it comes to war and senseless destruction.

The male of the pride is Zili, a lion secure with his place in the zoo and trusting of the keepers.  Safa is an old lioness, blind in one eye, dreaming back to her days in the jungle. Another lioness, Noor, who was born in captivity, dreams of being free, of hunting her own food as nature intended.  Noor wants to unite the zoo animals in an elaborate plot to escape.  The fourth lion is Noor's cub Ali. a curious youngster with all the questions in the world and with a child's understanding.

When American planes bomb the zoo, releasing the animals, the four lions go on a dangerous trek through Baghdad.  While exploring Sadaam Hussein's empty palace, they come across a dying lion unknown to them as well as a huge, murderous bear -- two of the animals Sadaam had kept in his personal zoo.  Threats are everywhere, with the biggest threat being the possibility of starvation.  With the exception of old Sala, the lions had never hunted; on the few occasions they did find prey -- a live antelope and a dead keeper -- a sense of honor that places them above the humans prevents them from feasting.

The artwork by Niko Henrichon is amazingly detailed and beautifully colored.  It took Henrichson a full year to complete this book and his efforts in this uncompromising work shine.

Pride of Baghdad is a story of war and the horrors of survival.  It is a powerful and tragic story.  As with The City there are no winners.  There never could be a winner.

Two very different yet very similar graphic novels.  Your mileage may vary but I found both to be among the best books of any sort that I have read recently.

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