Fourteen-year-old Cosmo Hill is not a lucky boy. The futuristic city where he was born has no use for abandoned orphans like Cosmo, so he is shipped to the Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys, which gets its funding by letting companies use the orphans for dangerous product testing. When he finally makes an escape, it very nearly kills him. And it would have killed him had he not found himself in the path of a little group called the Supernaturalists.
The Supernaturalists – two other seriously disaffected teens and one living lab experiment – have made it their mission to destroy Parasites, blue creatures that are drawn to people in pain and seem to suck out their life force. The only people who can see Parasites are Spotters, most of whom gained the ability after near-death experiences. Now, courtesy of his narrow escape, Cosmo is one. Joining the Supernaturalists will mean tracking and destroying Parasites, escaping armed attack lawyers, making deals with shady characters, even a little minor space travel – and maybe, finally, finding himself part of a family.
This book, a graphic novel adaptation of the original by Eoin Colfer, features a luxuriously (and sometimes humorously) detailed world. The city’s every move is coordinated by the satellite that hovers over it, which also fills the place with advertising. Orphans at Cosmo’s school are covered with tiny biosensors every time they shower so they can be tracked. Nonlethal guns fire tiny organisms that spin nets of cellophane, wrapping and immobilizing targets.
I would say that the city also has a seamy underbelly, but it’s really more that the whole city is one big seamy underbelly. Infested with gangs and with greedy corporations, smoggy and with rampant deadly accidents whenever the satellite malfunctions, the city is an eminently dangerous place. This darkness definitely touches Cosmo’s story, too: even after he escapes the tortures of Clarissa Frayne, more than one person he’s close to is killed.
For all that, there’s little blood actually shown. The full-color artwork, dense with spidery lines and gritty detail, reflects the grimness of the setting and story, but doesn’t highlight the violence. Many characters – almost all the villains, or most of the people we meet – are grotesque, adding to the emotional quality of the art. This is how Cosmo sees his world. Even the colors reflect Cosmo’s view of the city. The lights, screens, and other technology are a blur of garish, sickly colors, while the city around them is murky and dark. (I don’t mean for the words “blur” and “murky” to suggest lack of clarity in the illustrations. They are easy to interpret.)
The only complaint I have about the construction of the book visually is that the reading order of the panels changes, sometimes without warning. I would be reading right-to-left and down a page, getting a bit confused about what’s happening, only to realize that I was supposed to read the panels right to left all the way across as if the facing pages were one page. This is only true in some places; in others, the pages read across and down each individual page. I don’t mind reading either way, but this book switches it up frequently, and it’s not always obvious which way you’re meant to read the page you’re on.
I have not read the original version of The Supernaturalist, but I get the feeling this adaptation leaves little out. In addition to the dialog, Cosmo tells his story in first person via text boxes hovering on the edges of many of the panels. The level of detail is high, and I don’t find any loose ends of the kind some adaptations have when they attempt to prune subplots or summarize complex plotlines. Fans of the original might enjoy seeing it adapted this way; the book might also appeal to readers who like urban dystopias and fast-paced adventure.