There are two ways to view Denise Mina, Leonardo Manco and Andrea Mutti’s graphic novel adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Volume 1.” Either simply as the opening chapters of a mystery or as an adaptation of a complicated prose novel that has already received two excellent film adaptations. Looking at “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Volume 1” through the eyes of the former, one might find a lot to like, though it’s hard for me to do so since I’m a fan of the book and films. However, through the eyes of the latter, it’s pretty hard to find anything greatly compelling in this take.
On its own, this is not a bad graphic novel. The story is complex and compelling, the characters are interesting, and the art is consistent and (for the most part) easy to follow. However, when viewed as an adaption of the far superior novel and films, it falls well short of being an excellent adaptation, and all the things that are good about it tend to be the things that already existed, rather than anything particularly clever about the adaptation of the material to a new format. Adaptation is one of the toughest art forms around, but this one does not find that sweet spot that makes it a must read interpretation of something you already love.
Mina stays pretty close to the source material, which is wise, but the changes she does make seem strangely arbitrary and do nothing to enhance the story and in some ways detract from it. The opening is a bit dry as it spends a long six pages on the talking heads back-story of Blomkvist and WennerstrÃ¶m. It’s not inaccurate to the book, but for those unfamiliar with the story it’s a pretty slow and quiet opening to this expansive tale.
Additionally, I question the reason for breaking the book up into two volumes. The place where this first volume ends is not ideal, and while there’s a decent exploration of both main characters (Blomkvist and Salander) and you can see how their stories are beginning to connect, they don’t yet meet in this first volume, which is frustrating. It’s true that it takes time in the original novel for them to come together, but in the novel Blomkvist and Salander’s relationship is like a song that has a delicious slow build and then a crashing brilliant crescendo when they finally come together. Here you have no crescendo because the book ends before they meet, resulting in something that feels abruptly cut short. It’s the build but with no finish, and it’s jarring.
The art is nicely consistent, especially considering that this is a fairly hefty 147 pages, but in general it feels too stiff and formulaic and thus emotionless and rote. The best thing about the art is that Lisbeth is not traditionally “comic book” beautiful. She’s attractive in her way, but she feels very in control of her look and her presentation of herself as well as her sexuality — much in the same way that she does in the book (and the films) and unlike the misleading cover art. But there are truly odd visual choices throughout that yank readers right out of the story. Random panels are suddenly desaturated for no story or visual reason that I can discern, and some of the storytelling is highly flawed, including the brutal scene of Lisbeth’s rape. The action in that critical scene quite frankly makes almost no sense and it’s ultimately disappointing.
In fairness to this adaptation, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” is a good book that sets the bar very high. Unfortunately, and for a variety of reasons, this graphic novel doesn’t come close to the quality of the original, or the film adaptations.