The Nobody
by Jeff Lemire (Vertigo, 2009)

An interesting retelling of H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man, Jeff Lemire's The Nobody shares the similar theme of nothing being gained without a corresponding loss. In Wells' classic story, science is misused and a heavy price is exacted. Lemire's story takes chances with the psychology of his character that creates a texture, even a complexity, in its treatment of this iconic tale. In Lemire's heartrending story, it's love that's misused, with similarly awful results. Both stories, though, ultimately ask the same question: Is it possible to lose your identity when you can't deal with what happens to you?

A man arrives in a small Canadian town, in the middle of nowhere, and tries to blend in after taking a room over the local diner. Vicki, a young woman who works there as a waitress, becomes increasingly obsessed with the obscure man, developing a friendship with him that provides a window to his past via flashbacks. Meanwhile the tensions in the small town are simmering, growing to a nasty head as the presence of the unusual man forces them to confront their hidden fears. At the same time, the mysterious man's past catches up with him and sets into motion events that force him to deal with the consequences of his actions. Like the original John Kemp, John Griffin is so consumed with his need to complete his work that he lost sight of his humanity, with fatal consequences.

The other theme is that superpowers are almost always too great for anyone to handle. If we adopt a superhero power we are bound to misuse it. Lemire's Griffin is far more nuanced than Wells' Kemp, who was bitter and violent. Griffin, having misused his research and done terrible things to himself, is fully remorseful, having suffered a long, slow, severe nervous breakdown because of his guilt. We will always destroy what we don't understand, and we understand ourselves least of all.

Apart from Vicki, the supporting characters are from rather familiar stock, nothing memorable. The spare, sparse storytelling doesn't really lend itself to a lot of drama, preferring to draw very subtle pictures of small town life, with all its problems and weirdness intact.

The sense of isolation, loneliness and the powerful force of paranoia keep the story running in a slow, steady motion, much like the spare, beautiful art. The limited use of a simple light blue and black color palette, combined with an interesting panel layout, perfectly conveys the dark, somewhat mysterious nature of the story's heart, a heart as noirish as the original. The pulp element is such a clear influence that Lemire even drew the covers of the individual issues in pulp fiction style. Lemire's art has always intertwined with his storytelling very well, in the manner of Charles Burns, Craig Thompson and Dash Shaw.

The Nobody is its own, unique accomplishment, powerful and resonant, with a tragic protagonist and an evocative realism. Worth the read.

review by
Mary Harvey

14 February 2015

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