Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Review: Green River Killer

Graphic literature consists of a wider variety of material than just monthly superhero comic books. In fact, the vast majority of graphic literature has nothing to do with Batman. Sometimes that makes me sad. But then I think of awesome non-Batman graphic lit such as The Walking Dead, The Unwritten, and now Green River Killer, and I don't feel so sad.

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story is a graphic novel written by Jeff Jensen with art by Jonathan Case.  A graphic novel is essentially a long comic book with better binding. I take issue with the term as a blanket label for the format since it implies a genre of fiction. Originally I was going to refer to this as a graphic memoir, but then the back of the book corrected me. The book explicitly states, "It is not intended as history or memoir." Names and information have been changed and streamlined. Whole groups of people have been collapsed into a singular character. It is still based on a true story, but not a completely accurate depiction of that true story. I guess it is more akin to a movie adaptation of a true story.

Green River Killer is roughly 230 pages long, illustrated in black and white, and truly unsettling.

While the book is about Gary Leon Ridgway, convicted in 2003 of 48 counts of murder, it is told through the eyes of the author's father, Tom Jensen, a detective that worked on the Green River Killer case for nearly 20 years. The narrative jumps around in time as the investigation is framed by a rather unique experience: interviews with Ridgway after he is finally caught. In the summer of 2003, Tom Jensen and other law enforcement officials spent months secretly interviewing Ridgway as part of a plea bargain. If Ridgway could lead police to the recovery of even more bodies, giving some closure to many families, then he could avoid the death penalty.

Green River Killer is an addicting read that displays some of the unique features of the graphic literature format. The immediacy of the visuals come into play as the reader is immersed right away into a room staring down the notorious killer. Ridgway looks rather normal. Yet every time he appears it is incredibly unsettling.

Very few, if any, of the murders are actually displayed. The reader mostly follows Jensen to the crime scene after the bodies have been discovered. Still, the visuals of the bodies, along with the hauntingly descriptive narrative, make for a grim and atmospheric book.

So, what does this have to do with theology? Not very much. I'm sure if I tried I could squeeze something out about theodicy and ask how could a loving God allow this man to kill so many people. More than that, though, this book raises the issue of the banality of evil. Gary Ridgway seems like a rather normal person. At one point Tom Jensen describes him as "Bland. Just...bland. Profoundly unremarkable. You'd never take him for a serial killer."

We like to think evil is easily recognizable. It takes the form of monsters or demons or ghosts. One look and we can tell that something is evil. But life shows that evil rarely looks like the Joker, or the Green Goblin, or Darth Vader. Instead it looks just like us.

In the end, I definitely recommend this book. I think it is a great graphic novel. But I also understand it might not be to everyone's liking. But, if you're curious, you can head over to the Dark Horse Comics site for a brief preview of the book here.

But if you do read the book, don't do what I did. After reading it I looked up Ridgway on Wikipedia. And from there I link-hopped to articles about various other serial killers. As if sleeping after reading this book wasn't hard enough...

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