September 4, 2017

Review: Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Damian Duffy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the graphic novel version of Octavia E. Butler's masterpiece. I read Kindred (the book) years ago; I need to read it again, as in a lot of ways I didn't really understand it. But I'm glad I picked this up, as this version of the story, condensed to its soul-shattering essence, shows the depth of Butler's enormous talent.

This is a story of slavery and oppression, and the psychology of both. The science-fiction, time-travel aspect is the most hand-wavey part of it, and I've seen other reviewers complain about how the mechanisms of both fell flat. Ignore these people, as the point is whooshing at skyscraper-like heights over their heads. Octavia Butler was not the least bit concerned with the how of Dana's arrival in 1815 Maryland. Her razor-sharp focus is on the characters, and what happens to them afterwards, and how the systems and mindset that made enslaving other human beings possible left its dark, ugly mark on everyone involved, a mark which echoes through this country's history down to the present day.

This story is also an examination of violence and abuse. Since the original storyline has been stripped down to fit in the graphic novel format, one can readily see the steady escalation in each successive chapter. In the beginning, Rufus is an innocent child, parroting the white supremacist mindset of his elders without understanding it. But as he grows, and continues to drag Dana back in time to save him, one can see the poison of antebellum society taking hold, despite Dana's best efforts to get him to see his slaves as people, not property. His obsession with Alice (and with controlling the slaves in general, as he's now the "Massa" after his father's death), who he rapes and fathers several children with (echoes of Thomas Jefferson), marks the point of his being past redemption, although Dana doesn't see this until the very end. She's remembering the child she rescued. But when Rufus states his intention to make Dana his sexual slave just as he did Alice, she resorts to what is, at that point, her only way out (since in that time and place she obviously can't expect help from the law or society in general)--she kills him.

By that time, the reader--or at least this reader--can't help but see the homicide as justifiable.

No doubt many people will feel the print book portrayed all this better. And this is, after all, pretty much an apples to oranges comparison, as a graphic novel necessarily takes a quite different tack. As I was reading, I thought at first that I didn't care much for the artwork. But after finishing the book and thinking about it some more, I find the art is growing on me. It's bright and harsh, all sharp lines and sometimes ugly sepia tones, but that's appropriate to the ugly story Butler is telling. Let's put it this way: it's about the furthest you can get from Marvel or DC Comics.

This book is tough to read, but don't let that stop you. And mourn that such a monumental talent as Octavia E. Butler was taken from us so soon.

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