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I Am Legion

Review

I Am Legion

 

What is it about Nazis and World War II that keeps them as a potential, never-ending wellspring of source material for popular culture the world over? For example, there was a time when one could tune in to the History Channel (before it descended into programs about pawn shops and commercial marksmanship) and witness a nonstop, hour-by-hour examination of the Luftwaffe or historic battles of the Pacific and European fronts. In fact, among professional historians, our constant joke was that the "H" in History Channel actually stood for Hitler, as the channel produced so many documentaries on his leadership, secret bunker, predilection for mysticism, and countless other Hitler-related themes.

While the interest in Nazis and World War II is nothing new, there has been of late a noticeable surge of Nazi-themed books and graphic novels. Last year saw at least several titles emerge alongside the often frequent theme appearing time and again in Marvel's various Captain America series. Boom! Studios released an English-language version of Fabien Vehlmann's 7 Psychopaths, Radical Publishing came out with Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray's Time Bomb, and Carla Jablonski published the first book of herResistance trilogy with Macmillan. Now, readers can add Humanoids' I Am Legion to this list.
 
The September 2010 publication of I Am Legion was a long time in the making. Artist John Cassaday became associated with the title in 2003 during his time on Planetary and Astonishing X-Men, and his involvement did not end until four years later. The original French-language edition of the book by Humanoids was originally translated and brought to the United States through a partnership with DC Comics in 2004. This failed business arrangement, however, only yielded one installment, "Book One: The Dancing Faun," before DC pulled out. Following this, Devil's Due Publishing initiated its own arrangement with Humanoids and released the series in six issues in 2009. Now, finally, Humanoids has arranged for its own complete, collected deluxe hardcover edition of the original along with an art gallery by Cassaday.
 
The end product resembles Vehlmann's 7 Psychopaths quite closely in tone, pacing, and style if not in content, outlook, and approach. Although not without its merit (perhaps it is something lost in translation or indicative of the original French album edition), I Am Legion's organization and structure is, at times, awkward. In turn, this may make the reading a confusing and tiring experience for some. While the plot is fairly simplistic—vampire spirit inhabits little girl's body, Nazis use her as a weapon, other vampire seeks revenge on girl, all cast against the backdrop of the Second World War—the cast of characters is so immense and the narrative progression so plodding in places that even second or third readings yield little clarity or guidance. Not even Cassaday's beautiful artwork can assist with keeping the identities of the characters straight. As a result, most of the secondary characters and subplots are also quite forgettable.

Nury is at his strongest when he forgoes the long-winded and drawn out sequences of explanatory dialogue that often distract from Cassaday's art and instead allows the art to tell the story. From a vivid opening sequence that transitions into an action-laden shootout, Nury establishes the interest and intrigue required to capture and maintain readers' attentions; however, his immediate downshift into expository conversations of unknown characters does very little to advance the story. Instances such as Stanley's meeting in the restaurant, the first official experiment with the girl's abilities, and the secret machinations of anti-Hitler elements within Germany are by far the best examples of Nury's abilities as a storyteller and innovator.
 
The star of the book is Cassaday and his illustrations. He finds the delicate balance between the photo realism of an Alex Ross or Adi Granov and traditional comic art without crossing over into an overly rendered atmosphere resembling a video game. There is an added difficulty here as well since Cassaday is dealing not only with historical figures and themes, but also supernatural elements from the horror genre, which are traditionally exaggerated for effect. In fact, the realism of Cassaday's art only reinforces the degrees of shock and discomfort because the figures are so believable.
 
Taken as a whole, I Am Legion is an extremely busy book where the central theme of the possessed girl's powers is almost completely subsumed by the distracting actions of the other characters, who enter and exit the narrative with such frequency that none has hardly any impact on readers. The internal story, however, is not without its strengths, but they are mostly undermined by the nuances of the secondary stories intersecting and colliding at times. An editorial refocusing of the structure and development is required for greater clarity and would have tightened the book immensely, giving it a much more significant and lasting resonance with audiences. Despite these setbacks, however, the strong sequences of the narrative do stand out, and readers will find Cassaday's illustrations enjoyable and intriguing.

Reviewed by Nathan Wilson on June 29, 2011

I Am Legion
by John Cassaday

  • Publication Date: June 29, 2011
  • Genres: Graphic Novel
  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Humanoids, Inc.
  • ISBN-10: 1594650446
  • ISBN-13: 9781594650444