Nancy Butler and Janet K. Lee deliver another beautifully drawn, smartly executed adaptation of a Jane Austen novel with “Northanger Abbey”. Nancy Butler has over the last three years proven to be extremely adept in adapting these tales for Marvel — first with “Pride & Prejudice” (art by Hugo Petrus) in 2009, followed by “Sense & Sensibility” in 2010 (art by Sonny Liew), followed by “Emma” (also with Lee) in 2011, and now “Northanger Abbey” in 2011/2012. Butler has known what she was doing with these lovely stories since her very first attempt, and it’s clear with “Northanger Abbey” she’s not missed a beat.
These are very traditional adaptations, so don’t expect a lot of creative license. Butler is true to the material but has, as usual, found the best way to boil these novels down to their essence and get them on the page faithfully, character voices and plotlines beautifully intact. “Northanger Abbey” suffers a bit, especially in this issue, by spending a lot of time with a thoroughly unlikable character, but that’s an unfortunate by-product of adapting existing material; Butler handles it as well as she possibly can. This issue is also one of the more text heavy in recent memory, which when you’re with an unlikeable character can be a bit of a chore, but it’s hard to hold any of that against Butler.
Lee’s art is even better in this series than her gorgeous work on “Emma”. While her style remains enjoyable in its highly stylized look, as it was for “Emma”, it’s far more consistent than what we have seen before. Though I miss some of the character and spontaneity of her coloring her own work in “Emma”, Nick Filardi and Andy Troy do an excellent job here and help greatly on the consistency front. Lee’s storytelling is very nicely done in this issue and she does what she can with a story that is, let’s face it, not exactly action packed. Her expression work is fun here as she plays with how far she can push her character designs. The result is a book that looks energetic and vibrant.
When you’re dealing with an adaption of a novel, it really is in the art that the work sinks or swims, for if not for the art, why not just read the original prose? Marvel has been smart in choosing powerful artists with very distinctive bold styles for these adaptations. That has helped to set them apart from what could be very rote executions of pre-existing works. There’s nothing rote about Butler and Lee’s take, and for fans of adaptations or of Austen, this new series should be a treat.