Monday, May 04, 2015

Rex Libris, Vol. 2: Book of Monsters by James Turner

It's only to be expected that a comic about librarians would be wordy, full of dialogue and captions that revel in obscure information and intricate background details. But James Turner's Rex Libris series goes even further than most readers would expect, cramming lots of text into his stylish black-and-white art on its small pages. But if your eyeballs are up to the challenge, Rex Libris is a hoot.

Rex is the main character, a semi-immortal (two thousand years old, give or take, though with a Bronx accent that comes and goes) librarian currently working for the Middletown Public Library. His duties involve spending a lot more time shooting monsters and saving the world than most people would expect from librarians, and much less reshelving, meetings, and time spent at the reference desk. Rex's universe is not unlike that of Thursday Next: books have power and the ideas and creatures in books can escape to the real world with the (deliberate or accidental) application of the right kind of power.

Rex's world also is full of the full panoply of adventure-story fodder: secret societies of supervillains, alien races with cold and cruel intellects, crypto-zoological creatures both hyperintelligent and animalistic, hidden Nazi superscientists, and so forth. So his stories are crammed full of action and detail, from Turner's idiosyncratically toned art -- I think he uses a computer drawing program to get those crisp edges and precise gradients -- to the huge expository lumps in captions that I mentioned before.

Book Of Monsters collects the back half of the Rex Libris comics series from about six years ago: issues six to thirteen are here, following the first five in the companion volume I, Librarian. (See my review from 2008, which is flawed in more than one way, but can give you a sense of the book, I hope.) It contains two loosely-connected story arcs, both of which see Rex and his compatriot librarians battle vast hordes of miscellaneous monsters and evil forces -- first within a book, and then in the South Pacific, where Cthulhu II is rising.

These are incredibly wordy comics, and I did have some trouble just reading all of the tiny type in this small-format graphic novel. I will admit that I wished at times that Turner had been just slightly less in love with his own words, and had tightened things up a bit. But Book of Monsters is still a lot of fun, with hissable villains and fun concepts, and it more than lives up to the concept: a two-fisted librarian, fighting evil with the knowledge in his library and chasing down overdue books.

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