Written by Dallas Middaugh
Art by Niklas Asker
Originally Created by Jeanne DuPrau
This comic about children trying to escape their town surrounded by darkness attempts to shine like the novel it’s based on. Does it?
The City of Ember is the sole light in a world of darkness, its citizens fearful to venture into the unknown. As the town becomes plagued by power outages, food shortages, and political corruption, the children Lina and Doon find clues that may lead to everyone’s salvation. That is, if they can get anyone to believe them.
The City of Ember: The Graphic Novel is an adaptation to the 2003 “regular” novel of The City of Ember, which I haven’t read. It was also adapted into a Hollywood feature with Bill Murray, which I also haven’t seen. I’m going into this completely fresh.
The story is a feel-good tale of youthful optimism. It’s about the idea that when things look down and dark (like in a cave, perhaps), hope and perseverance will prevail. With that theme, it does a good job. The children are earnest in their pursuits against the legitimately corrupted adults. Thankfully, not all adults are bad guys, only a few. Going the “all adults are bad guys” route is an easy trap to fall into, but the children, Lina in particular, find plenty of adult support.
The downside is that this adaptation feels like an abridged story, even without having read the source material. Everything happens too quickly. There’s not much actual character development or world building. We don’t learn much about the lives of the characters, even the male lead Doon. The history and society of Ember, besides the origin that supposed to be secret, goes mostly ignored. You get an idea of what it’s like to live in Ember, but you never really feel it.
What you do feel though is the ending. When Doon and Lina find the reveal they were seeking, you the reader feel the cathartic release with them. You’ll know very early on what has been hidden from them this whole time, not that there is any effort to fool the reader, but watching these children discover it for themselves is more rewarding than I thought it would be. Beyond that, it makes me want to know what happens after the end. If any work can make you interested in continuing its journey, it’s done a good job.
For the most part, the art is fairly passable, not awesome or awful. The only real knock I’d give it is that the character designs are too similar. This is especially true for the children, who you can often swap hair styles and not be able to tell the difference.
Likewise with the story in general, the art’s high point is the ending, where it does a superb job conveying the emotional release of the children. The artist Niklas Asker captures a sense of awe and wonder on these children’s faces, made just a bit more impactful with tears of joy.
On its own, this comic is a fine story of youthful optimism trumping the establishment, and what kid doesn’t love to read about that? As an adaptation of on earlier work, I suspect that the weaknesses I found with the lack of development in the characters and the society are probably better detailed in the original novel, but I don’t really know. I’d like to know more, and I hope to see the other books in this series also get the comic treatment.
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10