Thursday, April 30, 2009

I finally "get" a graphic novel

Rex Libris Volume One: I, Librarian ***1/2
By James Turner

I nominate the adventures of super-hero librarian Rex Libris as a remedial text for old ladies like me who just don't "get" the gestalt of the graphic novels with which their teenage sons line the ratty nests of their loft beds.

I mean, if there's anything that's going to help me "get" it, it's the excitement of discovering references to St. Augustine, Bertrand Russell and Lady Murasaki tumbling among the pages with onomatopoeics like "cha shik," which approximates the sound of an AK-47 being assembled.

Rex (doing something brave above left) lives in a world of goofy comic-book sci-fi. For instance, the Middleton Public Library where Rex is head librarian, sits atop a cosmic hot spot (think Buffy's Hellmouth) that releases characters from books occasionally. Librarian Circe (yes, THE Circe, who has lost interest in the whole sorceress of seduction schtick, but does occasionally turn rowdy patrons into pigs) has to contend with a party of Goths who have jumped their pages and have to be calmed down by reading "The City of God" until they dissolve back into their books. Meantime, Rex, an immortal like Circe, muses occasionally about his long career as a librarian which started at the legendary library of Alexandria.

In this tome, Rex must visit the planet Benzene V to retrieve an overdue book (and $7 in overdue fines) from an evil overlord named Vladox. The novel manages to convey the role libraries and freedom of information play in a free society without being at all preachy. Library funding woes are also part of the plot line.

Introducing the five installments in this volume of Rex's adventures is Rex's fictional publisher, B. Barry Horst, who functions as a fine satire on comic publishers--and perhaps even the taste of the average comic reader. While fighting characters emanating from books, tracking down inter-planetary book heisters, Rex also spends a fair amount of time fighting off Barry's idea to jazz up Rex's adventures with extra guns, Eastern martial arts and busty Amazon warriors.

Now that my kid has seen me read an enjoy a graphic novel, something called "Hayate, Combat Butler" has appeared on my bedside stand. Could there be any clearer signal that an over-50 mom has just moved into the ranks of somewhat-cool? No, there could not.

Thank you, Rex Libris--information freedom fighter, intergalactic space traveler, and bringer together of generations!

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