Review: The Vesuvius Club (Graphic Novel) by Gatiss and Bass

Review by Hayden Thorne

Mark Gatiss presents the first adventure of Lucifer Box rendered in every detail. Lucifer Box, the greatest portraitist of the Edwardian Age and England’s most dashing secret agent, investigates a series of bizarre disappearances and plunges headlong into low life and high society. Who is killing Britain’s most prominent vulcanologists? What secrets lie beyond the grave? And which tie goes best with a white carnation? See him confront the purple undead, instruct the mysterious and beguiling Bella Pok, disguise himself with a false moustache, face an ominous evil in the depths of a volcano, and come to grips with his new manservant, Charlie Jackpot.

When I purchased Mark Gatiss’s book, I learned that it was also transformed into a graphic novel, and the long-slumbering manga/comic book fan in me stirred, bleary-eyed and pawing instinctively at the computer screen. I’d already seen previews of Ian Bass’s art style since Bass did the illustrations for Gatiss’s novel, and on that basis (in addition to curiosity as to how the novel could be interpreted in a visual medium), I eagerly snapped up a copy.

As I’ve already noted in my review of Gatiss’s novel, I was very much disappointed in the story, particularly in the way the second half seemed to fall apart, plot-wise. In the graphic novel, the story is distilled to the main mystery, and all other subplots have been removed. I’m not an illustrator, let alone a graphic novel artist. However, I’m very well aware of the difficulties that may come with turning something purely textual into something visual. Bass’s decision to rewrite the plot in some places is quite understandable, and to some extent, it does work.

On the whole, I like the art style despite its inconsistencies. Ian Bass’s illustrations work pretty well with the hybrid of mystery, sci-fi, comedy, and history that defines Gatiss’s novel. The characters are distinctive – as in their personalities are nicely captured and given more definition with an exaggerated detail or two. There are occasional decorative flourishes in the background or on the characters that make me think of Aubrey Beardsley – quite appropriate, given the historical period. It’s not a very “pretty” style, and manga fans who’re used to seeing beautifully stylized illustrations when it comes to gay-themed stories will be sorely disappointed in this book. Mark Gatiss’s novel is a romp, and it’s written in a very visual way (considering Gatiss’s writing background involving film, it’s not at all surprising). It translates well into graphic novel form, where the more fantastic elements that might not work in the book are quite at home.

In terms of plot, the graphic novel is rather lean. As mentioned before, subplots have been pruned, and the character list has dwindled to about half, the focus placed mostly on the main characters. If not completely rewritten, several scenes were dropped, many of which involved Bella Pok and her role in the book. Considering that she’s a significant player in one of the subplots (and it’s a subplot that’s really more of the throwaway kind that adds nothing to the overall story), her drastically reduced scenes make me wonder why she’s kept in the graphic novel at all. To show how much of a cad Lucifer Box is, maybe? If so, it doesn’t quite work, given the heavy emphasis on the main mystery, what with all those side stories being dropped. There’s just no room left for Lucifer Box’s amorous bisexual adventures.

What works in this case, though, is that Ian Bass gives us a much better treatment of Bella’s presence in Naples. In the novel, she’s there, and then she’s gone – a plot device that doesn’t work at all. In the graphic novel, she remains in Naples, and everything that takes place in the novel’s climax is squished into one setting, not two.

A final word of warning to readers: this graphic novel is for adults. There’s an orgy scene in a brothel (not very detailed), both het and gay, and one of the characters exposes his genitals. It’s an important detail in the story, trust me.

Buy the book: Amazon, Amazon UK

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