Dial ‘N’ for night­mare

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LEISURE - SHAUN A. NOORDIN star2@thes­tar.com.my

Well, we should have known bet­ter than to re­view the graphic novel adap­ta­tion of Stephen King’s N. Now we’ve de­vel­oped a nag­ging sus­pi­cion that the fab­ric of re­al­ity isn’t as sta­ble as we hope it might be, and that there are ter­rors lurk­ing ju­u­ussst be­yond the edges of our con­scious­ness. Also, we now have an ir­ra­tional fear of odd numbers.

N is a de­light­fully un­nerv­ing hor­ror story that starts off with a let­ter. As in, some­thing you put in an en­ve­lope, not the let­ter “N” it­self. (This isn’t Sesame Street.)

Sheila, one of the many un­for­tu­nate souls to be swept up in the events of the story, writes to her child­hood friend to share with him the tragic story of how her brother Johnny com­mit­ted sui­cide. She ex­plains that her brother, a psy­chi­a­trist, started show­ing signs of men­tal in­sta­bil­ity af­ter treat­ing a pa­tient known only as “N”.

The nar­ra­tive then delves into the tragic cir­cum­stances that drove pa­tient “N” to seek psy­chi­atric help to be­gin with, as well as the dire con­se­quences of his ac­tions.

The back­story, you ask? N started off as a short story by Stephen King, but be­fore it was even pub­lished in his “Just Af­ter Sun­set” col­lec­tion, it was adapted by Marc Guggen­heim into an an­i­mated video se­ries/ mo­tion comic. It was only af­ter that that it was adapted again into a four-is­sue comic se­ries by Mar­vel, which is hand­ily col­lected in this one vol­ume (112 pages of men­tal melt­down at its best!).

If you’re cu­ri­ous about the video se­ries, you can catch all 25 episodes at http://nishere.com, but frankly, we wouldn’t rec­om­mend it. The What if Ob­ses­sive­com­pul­sive dis­or­der is a deadly, trans­mis­si­ble virus? printed ver­sion, we feel, does a much bet­ter job at cap­tur­ing the dread within the story, as more things – such as the voices that come from be­yond this re­al­ity – are left to the reader’s imag­i­na­tion.

That’s what makes “N” so un­nerv­ing, re­ally – it preys on the imag­i­na­tion. “N” isn’t a hor­ror story where mon­sters pop out from be­hind cor­ners go­ing “Ooga booga!”, nor is it a hor­ror story that re­lies on graphic gore and ex­plicit vi­o­lence.

King con­jures the scary bits not in the shape of cliched mon­sters, but in the form of ideas that get stuck in his char­ac­ters’ heads.

And once you get caught up in the story, those ideas get stuck in­side your head too.

He takes rel­a­tively mun­dane el­e­ments such as numbers, sym­me­try and rep­e­ti­tion, and then twists them into some­thing that hints at some­thing much more sin­is­ter.

The pa­tient “N”, in the story, de­vel­ops a very spe­cific form of Ob­ses­sive­Com­pul­sive Dis­or­der which ter­ri­fy­ingly enough is spread to a suc­ces­sion of vic­tims, lead­ing to more and more tragic re­sults.

The art­work from Bul­gar­ian-born artist Alex Maleev (a reg­u­lar Brian Michael Bendis side­kick) bears spe­cial men­tion, as the dark, al­most photo-re­al­is­tic il­lus­tra­tions adds to the at­mos­phere of dread cul­ti­vated by the nar­ra­tive. (Was it ro­to­scoped? We’re not sure, but it works.) The ex­pres­sions on faces of the story’s nu­mer­ous vic­tims makes the am­bi­ent hor­ror of the story that much more be­liev­able, more so than any illustration of mon­sters can.

If you’re a hor­ror story fan who’s fa­mil­iar with the works of other au­thors, you’ll find that N’s themes of mad­ness and ter­rors lurk­ing at the thresh­old of ex­is­tence has a de­light­fully love­craftian ring to it.

Stephen King him­self de­nies any links to HP love­craft (pre­fer­ring to com­pare his work in­stead to Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan) but ei­ther way, N proves a very im­por­tant point: when it comes to hor­ror, some­times it’s much more ef­fec­tive to have the mon­sters lurk­ing in­side your head than stalk­ing of the phys­i­cal world.

We’re go­ing to go ahead and give this graphic novel a rat­ing of four (out of five). It has an ex­cel­lent story and great art­work that puts it way above the av­er­age, but it’s a bit too short to be con­sid­ered flaw­lessly awe­some. More im­por­tantly though, four’s a good num­ber. It’s even. n Stephen King’s N graphic novel is avail­able at Ki­noku­niya KLCC.

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