Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (IDW Publishing)

ial-header.jpgFans disappointed by liberties taken by the recent Will Smith movie to bear its name would be well served to check out this graphic novel adaptation of Richard Matheson’s horror classic from 30 Days of Night creator Steve Niles.

244 pgs. B&W; $19.99

(W: Steve Niles; A: Elman Brown)

 

If you trace the elements of modern horror movies back far enough, you eventually come back to one specific novel: I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson. It is a "last man on earth" type story about Robert Neville, an average, blue-collar kind of guy who now finds himself all alone in the world. Well, not totally alone, thanks to some sort of undefined plague that has somehow turned most of the world’s population into vampires. Now Neville spends every day not only trying to find food and drinkable water but also protecting himself and fighting off vampires. These are not the romantic vampires of Stoker and Rice, but blood sucking, animalistic, almost brainless beasts. As the weeks turn into months and the months turn into years, Neville eventually comes to the decision that he must study the plague and figure out if he can save the world and turn the vampires back to humans. His own level of education and the harsh new world of death he lives in restrict his research, but Neville carries on, spending his days looking for science textbooks and experimenting on sleeping vampires.

 

IDW Publishing has now re-released the classic graphic novel adaptation of I Am Legend, originally published as a 4-issue miniseries by Eclipse Comics in 1991. The graphic novel’s author is Steve Niles, best known for his own foray into the vampire world, 30 Days of Night, while Elman Brown handles the artwork.

 

Click for a larger image.I Am Legend is a science fiction/horror story only on the surface. It is actually an observation of a man in isolation and the effects on him. We get to see how Robert Neville not only physically survives but mentally as well, how he gives himself purpose when all he’d rather do is spend his days being drunk. And through it all, we see Neville keep some semblance of hope in an otherwise hopeless world.

 

Steve Niles is very faithful to Robert Matheson’s original novel. Much of the original text seems to be the same, particularly Neville’s narration, and very little is left out. Niles does an excellent job organizing the story in neat chapters and creating good visual pacing. Each panel has an excellent balance of artwork and script.

 

Brown’s artwork is very dark and gritty, creating the stark, gloomy imagery needed to echo the tone of Matheson’s novel. One flip through the graphic novel and one sees right away a book drawn in an era before computer-aided art. Obviously, every line is drawn and inked beautifully by hand, giving the images a depth and realism that you don’t see in a lot of modern books. One has to realize the hard work and time that would have gone into making a graphic novel of this size in this fashion. 

 

I Am Legend has been adapted into other media several times, including the 1964 Vincent Price film The Last Man On Earth and Charlton Heston’s 1971 film The Omega Man, before the recent film starring Will Smith, a film dogged by the usual complaints that the movie was nothing like the book and left out key elements. If you want a full visual adaptation that is faithful to Matheson’s original novel, then the IDW release of I Am Legend, with nearly every detail intact, is the only way to go. | Ryan Parker

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