Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere

December 28, 2008

neverwhere-1Neverwhere went through it all or is at least getting there. It was a TV series that became a novel that became a graphic novel that may soon become a movie. But, having only read his novels and watched his terrible films so far, I want to say that Neil Gaiman is made strictly for the comic medium. He won’t listen to me though, so we’ll just let him learn the hard way. Neverwhere is a good case in point: read it in novel form, and it feels tacky, lumpy, and mediocre. (Saying stuff like this on the streets in broad daylight could get you lynched by his truckload of foaming furies.) But as comic, this shines with fluid and immense intelligence: it is self-aware, cheeky, and fun with well-placed lines and well-pinned moments.

For that, the team of Mike Carey and Glenn Fabry may have to take much credit. Fabry’s art and costume designs are rich and rewarding; they force you visually to stay a little longer on each page in a manner distinct from deliberate overloading like George Pérez’s. And Carey is sometimes far more skilful than he believes he is. There are moments in his epic series Lucifer that are, without a doubt, a few levels more dazzling than the celebrated Sandman canon it spins out from. His long run on Hellblazer is right up there with Jamie Delano’s and Garth Ennis’s in helping to bring back an original strong commitment to John Constantine’s character and life. Then there are projects like Faker and God Save the Queen which we would rather not mention in the same breath.

Carey’s primary strength is narrative tightness, and this trait in Neverwhere is neurotically his: he cuts out whole elements just to make the adventure more focussed and its twists less indulgent. I’ve always maintained that Gaiman is a one-idea, or rather one-mythology, man: after Sandman, his creations mostly either pale in comparison or are mere moving around known furniture. Given his imaginative limits, Carey manages to enable a surprising depth by weaving into Gaiman’s flat universe elements of his own. Tell me, for example, that you don’t think that London Below feels like the Dreaming, that Marquis de Carabas resembles the Corinthian and Old Bailey Mad Hattie, that Fallen Angel Islington feels eeriely like Fallen Angel Gabriel, that Croup and Vandemar are Remiel and Duma, that Door is either Rose Walker or Elaine Belloc, and the Black Friars’ key Lucifer’s key.

It is indeed scary to think along those lines, but if you simply want a poor duplication of Sandman, something of a roller coaster ride you have gone on before and know that you’ll enjoy it, then Gaiman’s novel will do. However, if you choose this comic, then please pay attention to Carey’s and Fabry’s Midas touch: together, they do give their readers the profound difference of polished silver.

Gweek finds the way out of this volume with 8 road signs.

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