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Review: Stephen King’s ‘N.’ #1

When the motion comic treatment of Stephen King’s ‘N’ hit the net it was a bit of an oddity. Scripted for comics by Marc Guggenheim (‘LAW & ORDER’, ‘CSI: MIAMI’) and illustrated by Alex Maleev (‘DAREDEVIL’, ‘BATMAN’) the webisode series actually pre-dated the release of King’s story in ‘JUST AFTER SUNSET’ and garnered quite a bit of praise among fans and critics. So much in fact that the series was sent into serialized production by Marvel to collect the minute to a minute-and-a-half episodes into a 4 issue limited series. The result of all of this craziness is what readers held in their hands as of Wednesday. Read on for the review of ‘N’ issue #1.

‘N’ is as much of an oddity as it is a near perfect piece of King fiction. The story itself revolves around the case study conducted by a psychiatrist named John Bonsaint on the obsessively compulsive insomniac, “N”. The man seems to possess classic symptoms that are not to much of anything out of the ordinary except for the fact that he is under the assumption that there is someone, or something, that wants to kill him. He tells the doctor a story about the day that drove him out of his mind, but not before cautioning the doctor that hearing the story might be just enough to drive him to the same fate. From here on we are submitted to a story about one man’s obsession that might just have lead to improbable consequences for the entire world. Or is he simply insane? He tells John that one day while he was taking photographs he came across a field he had never seen, and despite the warnings of the signs telling trespassers to keep out of ‘Ackerman’s Field’ his curiosity got the best of him. In the field he found 7 impossible stones standing against the sunset. On those stones were faces of things not human and not of our world staring back at him. ‘N’ snapped five photos to try and capture them on camera, but when he did they were never there. Instead there was the impossibility of an 8th stone standing in the field. One that a person could not see with the naked eye. One that no matter how hard ‘N’ tried, no matter how hard he looked, and no matter how much he felt for it…would not appear. His obsession with counting kept him there looking for the invisible rock until his fear turned him coward and he ran. Then the vision came. And with it it brought the nightmares, and the horrible monstrosities that followed.

King’s short story has often been compared to the masterwork of H.P Lovecraft and his “CTHULHU MYTHOS” to wich many comparisons can be drawn. Tale of obsession and involuntary compulsion is have been sewn by many of the greatest writers of all time, and in many cases they have lead to the eventual ruination (at times damnation) of those whom they afflict. In fact an even better comparison for King’s story might be ‘THE GREAT GOD PAN’ by Machen, a book that King admits inspired him and one that I do believe to be one of the greatest horror stories ever told in America. But for everything that can be said about King’s novella turned illustrated comic book there must be an equal share of praise given to Guggenheim and Maleev.

From the get go ‘N’ is an extremely rough undertaking to be put into this type of format. For those not familiar with the short story much of the novella was presented with newspaper clippings, written reports, ect…something that proves to be a major hurdle for anyone trying to illustrate these events. The result ended up being a hybrid of sorts where Guggenheim and Maleev decided to keep these aspects intact but present them in the most literal way possible. Several times readers will find themselves reading straight King novella lifts as there will be several full pages that simply depict a newspaper lying on a table or a doctors case file strewn among many of his belongings. In this way the story instantly earns points among fans who are looking for the integrity of the story to not be tarnished. These things might bore some, but the snippets are kept brief enough to hold the attention of most.

As for the artwork there isn’t a whole lot that can be said about Bulgarian born Alex Maleev that hasn’t been said 100 times previous. His artwork is fantastic here yet again, and to say he is one of the best active artists in comics would almost be an understatement for the man. His style of articulating things to readers is wonderfully dark, noir, and eerily macabre. Each panel is fully alive with a healthy breath of originality and you would be hard pressed to find an artist that is even closely comparable. In fact the book ends with a money shot that is so breathtakingly cool and artistic that it looks like it should be hanging in a museum not in the back of a comic book. The depiction of the mile high gargantuan monster terrorizing ‘N’ is NEARLY iconic even though it does fall just a bit short of that type of greatness.

Coupled with the story itself the folks at Marvel have also included some sketch art panels and concepts to give fans of the webisodes something new to look at for their $3.99. Besides that there are also statement from Guggenheim and Maleev detailing their involvement with the story and the process of of bringing it to the place it is now.

When all is done and read ‘N’ issue #1 completely lives up to the greatness of its source and only adds to the experience of King’s story. At some points it is hard to even imagine reading the original novella without the carefully rendered illustrations of Maleev to serve as your guide. ‘N’ is an eerie, grotesque, frightening mind trip into the world of a man who may or may not be crazy and a doctor who is just as skeptical. Read this series at any cost.

4.5 Out Of 5 Skulls