Devin Grayson, writer,
John Bolton &
Sean Phillips, artists
(DC/Vertigo, 2001)

User, a three-issue Vertigo miniseries, represents the type of mature, sophisticated graphic storytelling that characterizes the best of this fascinating genre that mixes sequential art and fiction.

The protagonist of User, Meg Chancellor, is a 20-something Gen X-er stuck in a cubicle in a stultifying job at a pharmaceutical corporation in Suburbia, USA. She also struggles with a troubling personal life. Her mother recently walked out on the family in disgust at her husband's emotional inadequacy, leaving Meg and her younger sister Annie, a sibling who might be suffering sexual abuse from the father's best friend. Meg finds surcease from her daily gloom in what seems like an unlikely place: a computer online gaming chat room where she creates an idealized, fictional role-playing character, Guilliame de la Coeur, who manifests in the form of a gallant, physically imposing, young, male knight in shining armor.

Guilliame's adventures in a medieval fantasy cyber-domain involve Meg in interesting gender-bending experiences of male bonding, flirtations with seductive female characters, encounters with magical beings in the form of vampires and dragons and an affair of honor -- a heroic death match which goes awry, mirroring chaotic events in the mundane world.

As User shifts back and forth from the dreary cubicles of the contemporary workplace to the boisterous, picturesque inns and landscapes of gamer-oriented online chatrooms, the plot examines the potent ways stories enable us to awaken hidden and unexpected aspects of our personalities. The visuals, cleverly conceived to differentiate between the two planes of Meg's realities, oscillate between the vibrant, fully-painted, brightly-colored artwork by John Bolton and the moody, atmospheric, mostly monotoned, watercolor-style brushwork of Sean Phillips to represent the cyberspace otherworld and the mundane, respectively.

Devin Grayson's writing effectively dramatizes how Meg's everyday problems building to a crisis confrontation with father, mother and sister affect her online alter-ego while the critical death match approaches. The text and the artwork complement each other beautifully. The consequences of Meg's fantasy life radically alter her real life, and vice versa -- for they are inextricably intertwined, making for an emotionally resonant and gripping yarn leading to a surprising and satisfying ending to the three-part story.

User, chronicling Meg's discovery of the meanings of the heroic spirit and exploring the alluring escapism of the online world in which the boundaries between fantasy and reality become painfully slender, exemplifies superior graphic fiction. A combination of swashbuckling fairy tale and gender-bending techno-drama adroitly rendered by the highly talented Bolton and Phillips and ably written by Grayson -- all seasoned veterans in their chosen profession, with acclaimed track records -- accurately describes User which amply rewards with its imaginative and emotionally believable treatment of highly relevant and widespread trends in the zeitgeist. Despite some strong language, User, with its treatment of important social issues with some sensitivity and depth and offering a hopeful outcome, can be highly recommended to anyone seeking a graphic fiction experience with a script that pleases the mind and artistry that entertains the eyes.

[ by Amy Harlib ]