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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo vol 1 h/c

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo vol 1 h/c back

Stieg Larsson, Denise Mina & Leonardo Manco, Andrea Mutti


Page 45 Review by Dominique

Adaptations, hmmm. Isn’t it almost always true that a story is most at home in its original medium? I think so but then again there can be something very exciting about seeing something familiar reworked by fresh eyes and hands. Or, yes, there can be something depressing about seeing something you loved distilled into an ever-less potent version of itself. So my first question when I saw the Millennium Trilogy solicited as a series of comic books was “I wonder if it will be shit?” Ever the optimist! The second question was “Where will they go with it?”, after all, we’ve had the books then two versions as films on top of that. And finally I thought, “Is there anything else left to say?” On reflection, knowing how utterly packed the Millennium Trilogy is with things to say, that last question was pretty stupid.

The more pertinent question is definitely “Where will they go with it?” Compressing those three dense and fast-moving books into six average-sized trades must have been hard and I guess the first questions with any adaptation are: what do you keep, what do you streamline and what do you cut? Secondly, Larsson’s books (revolving as they do around an investigative journalism, murder, corruption and hacking) are packed with detail and intertwined plots. His writing guides us with ease and the comic book must live up to that.

And thirdly there is Lisbeth Salander, the very reason I resisted reading the Millennium Trilogy for so long and only came to it as a very late convert. Salander is a compelling character; damaged, awkward and reclusive but also moral, loyal and intelligent. She absolutely cannot be relied upon but there is no-one you would want at your side more in any kind of battle. She could be variously described as looking Post-Punk, Goth-Rock, Riot-Grrl, Queercore but she does not fit any label exactly, nor would she care to, or possibly even be able to if she tried. She is also skinny, uninhibited and pansexual… which was where the warning bells began to sound for me. I am so used to hearing that crap from publishers, film makers, whoever – “Check it out, she’s tough, she’s the hero, Girl Power, no really! “ – only to be presented with yet another story about a pretty, broken girl with Daddy issues who talks the talk for about fifteen minutes and then needs a kind, understanding, older man to come to her rescue. Cynical, I know, but it kept me away from the books for many a month. How glad I am then that I relented, because in Salander (and indeed in Blomkvist, the Vanger family and everyone that Larsson writes) we have a well defined, flawed, fascinating character with the power to make you care desperately about the outcome of the various stories.

So I read Book One with these questions at the front of my mind, interested to see how they turned out. In terms of “Where will they go with it?” Denise Mina seems to have done very well indeed, picking out the most compelling and important strands of the story and moving them on at a pace which is comfortable and engaging. The parts which are switched about or ditched altogether don’t jar, so if you know the story you are not going to be left annoyed and if you don’t know it you are not going to be left confused. It’s early days yet but so far the “changes” seem to follow the spirit of the original which bodes well.

With much less space for dialogue than in the prose the characters have nonetheless been given distinctive voices so you are able to quickly get a feel for them and where they fit in. The art is clear and attractive. There is no attempt to break comic art boundaries, sensibly, the art lets the story do the talking and only adds flourish where it is really needed. (As a side note I have to say they did themselves no favours at all with the cover, the pose is too garish and un-Salander like but thankfully things are much more subtle inside.) Salander is drawn well: rather than being an assembly of piercings, tattoos and kick-ass boots which might have been an easy trap to fall into, she is a human being with a spark in her eye which fits her character perfectly.

As for having something to say, the chapter breaks stay loyal to the original, listing some chilling statistics about violence against women in Sweden, so it seem that they will be sticking with this issue at least. There are a few other biggies explored in the books: corporate and financial fraud, society’s treatment of abuse victims, the vast holes in the mental health system; and how far we get into these remains to be seen. We may just stick with murder, family intrigue and violence which will still be enough to go on, I’m sure!

This feels like a good start to the six-part series and each book will certainly be towards the top of my reading pile. It perhaps doesn’t attempt to scale the heights of social and human commentary that the books did yet but it is still forming into a meaty and intelligent tale. Tempting though it is, I’m not going to say anything more about the story and what it holds for you, because what’s the point of a mystery if someone has already solved it for you? Suffice it to say, if you like a murder-mystery with a dose of conspiracy and politics (sexual and otherwise) thrown in, you will love this. Also, read the books, they’re awesome.
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