COMICS: John Reviews “Rex Libris Vol. 1: I, Librarian” by James Turner

Cover to Rex Libris Vol. 1

Cover to Rex Libris Vol. 1

My coverage of comics that feature bad-ass secret agent librarians continues with today’s entry, James Turner’s Rex Libris Volume One: I, Librarian, published by Slave Labor Graphics (sometimes known as SLG Publishing, who WITWAR readers may remember publish Faith Erin Hicks’ Zombies Calling and The War at Ellsmere.)  Like a cube of elemental Osmium, Rex Libris is small in size but incredibly densely packed in content.  It is a delightfully full meal of a comic, one that takes time to digest and should not be scarfed down, lest the reader succumb to intellectual indigestion.

In Rex Libris, the eponymous Rex is top agent of the Ordo Bibliotheca, a secret international order of libraries dedicated to following five laws (in full parody of Asimov’s Three:)

1. Books are to be read.

2. Every person his or her book.

3. Every book its reader.

4. Save the time of the reader.

5. The library is a growing organism.

Rex’s duties range from the re-shelving of books and arrangement of dust particles throughout the Middleton Public Library (an archive so vast and complex it makes the Library of Congress look like a run-down newsstand) to travelling throughout space and time Doctor Who-style to retrieve missing and overdue books.  On top of that, the library is built atop a major Telluric lay line, causing all manner of fictional characters to spontaneously pop into existence and begin wreaking havoc in the stacks, only to fade away shortly thereafter.  Rex is assisted by the able staff of the Middleton Public Library: ex-Spetznaz operative Hypatia, the mythical sorceress Circe, the ancient Egyptian god Thoth, and trusty sidekick Simonides, a former Greek who was turned into a bird by Circe and now seeks to rule a galaxies-vast empire as its mighty philosopher-king.  An eclectic bunch if ever there was one, I’d say.  Rex’s mission in volume one is to retrieve a copy of Bertrand Russell’s Principia Mathematica from a galactic tyrant on the other side of the universe, and he’s not the law-abiding type.  Increasingly outlandish hijinks ensue, occasionally made even more outlandish thanks to intervention from the comic’s fictional editor, B. Barry Horst, who insists that there should be space amazons, and that Rex needs a gun-toting female sidekick with giant breasts if the book is to sell at all in today’s market.

Thankfully, despite the urgings of Mr. B. Barry Horst, Rex Libris adheres strongly to its intended tone without pandering to the lowest common denominator.  The fact that the banner above the title uses the word “sesquepedalian” is a clear sign that Turner not only does not fear, but in fact embraces obscure and impressive words.  I like to think of myself as someone who has a fair command of the English language, but several of the terms in this volume left me completely stumped.  “Floccinaucinihilipilification” is certainly one I’ve never seen before, and to me it barely qualifies as something more than a string of consonants and vowels. (Note:  Apparently it is the second longest non-technical word in the OED, and it means “The act of describing something as worthless.”)  Nedless to say, James Turner’s love of GRE-level words provides amusement to readers who aren’t afraid of a little challenge.

Amazingly, Turner is able to blend pulp-style action and incredibly dense literary humor in a way comparable to, but entirely different from, Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series.  For one, Rex is far funnier and takes itself far less seriously, yet works dilligently to offer some measure of logical explanation for the fantastic events unfolding on each page.  Rex frequently assures the reader that space-teleporting crystals are the latest in scientific theory, and that amazons could never live in space because they can’t acquire magical insurance policies that provide them with the necessary temperature/pressure shield and air bubble.

Turner employs a very interesting art technique with Rex Libris, producing all of the images via computer.  This first volume retains the line styles of a traditional comic book, though, only dipping into the computer’s capacity for more complicated images when designing backgrounds.  The result is far more aesthetically pleasing than any other CGI-based comic I have read, though I can’t help but wonder whether I would prefer a traditional pen-and-ink version.

Overall I would say that Rex Libris is a wonderful treat for readers who don’t shy away from unfamiliar vocabulary words, and don’t mind a generous helping of text in their comics.  The jokes are clever, the juxtaposition of traditional beat-’em-up action and serious philosophical discussion is incredibly humorous, and the art is a well-executed experiment in the field of computer-generated imaging.  It makes Read or Die look like a gigantic intellectual void by comparison, as I feel a comic that prominently features libraries in its plot, dialogue, characters and settings should. (Looking back on it, Read or Die mostly treated books as collections of paper ammunition, and left a lot of story potential untapped.  Hopefully the trend set by Rex Libris will be continued in my third and final entry in the bad-ass secret agent librarian series.

Since there are too many favorite quotes for me to list them all, but I’ll provide a few (taken delightfully out of context) for your enjoyment:

REX: Your time is up, you fiendish, barnacle-brained, arch-malignant monster of maliciousness!  Now get the hell out of my library!

THOTH: Just what is an out-of-work god supposed to do?  The job position doesn’t come up very often.  It isn’t, “Oh, we need a god for dairy grocer.   Can great Thoth start Wednesday?”

THOTH: Thoth shall have a muffin, and it shall be blueberry!  SO THOTH COMMANDS!

SIMONIDES: Take what you wish, my minions, but the bird seed is mine!

B. BARRY HORST: Plot, character…bah!  That’s all secondary stuff!  I ‘ve studied this closely, my friend. Violence and boobs is where it’s at.

REX: Damn you, Yeti!  Why do you torment me so?  These butter tarts brim with the very calories of EVIL!!!

REX: I got it all worke dout.  First, I’m gonna go with reverse psychology.  Convince him of the error of his ways.  Appeal to his better nature, all that sort of thing.  And if that doesn’t work, I’m gonna beat the crap outta him.

I just love this poster.

I just love this poster.

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