Graphic Novel Review: Rex Libris: I, Librarian Volume I

Forget the image of the tight-lipped, bun-haired, aged, school-marmish librarian. She’s gone. If the Shifted Librarian hasn’t sufficiently stuffed her worn, tattered butt into the relic bin, Rex Libris will drive a stake through the old stereotype’s barely beating heart.

Rex Libris, the invention of illustrator-turned-comic book creator James Turner, is, according to the cover of my book, “The World’s Favorite Kick-Ass Sesquepedalian Librarian.” I don’t know what “sesquepedalian” means because it’s not in Mirriam-Webster’s dictionary. “Sesquipedalian” is there, though: it means “having many syllables” or “given to the use of long words.” Those definitions make some sense given that our hero, Rex, is incredibly well read and tosses out words like “floccinaucinihilipilification” willy-nilly.

Maybe that’s because he’s kind of old: he was born in ancient Greece (or was it Rome?). With his dark suit and tie, thick, dark-rimmed, bottle glasses and puffed-up torso, he looks like Clark Kent on steroids. But he’s no alien in tights; he’s the the weapon-toting, universe-trotting, several-thousand-year-old head librarian at Middleton Public Library. His job: to protect the collected knowledge of civilization by tracking down every last overdue book, no matter how many galaxies away it might be or how strong the forces of evil or ignorance that stand in his way. Or even how much brute force he has to use.

Volume I of Rex Libris follows Rex on his quest to recover an overdue copy of Bertrand Russell’s Principia Mathematica from supreme warlord Vaglox of the planet Benzine Five. Rex accepts his assignment, given by his boss, the ancient Egyptian god Thoth, who lives in the bowels of the library, by saying, “You got it boss. I’ll get the book back an’ give him a few lumps for good measure.” Lucky for me my librarian still just charges a fine for overdue books.

But by this point we already know that Rex is no ordinary librarian. In fact, Chapter One opens with Rex doing battle with a demon spirit samurai who has come to the library looking for the book, Evil Made Easy. Rex will let the samurai can read the book in the library but won’t let him leave with it. Why? Because the demon spirit has no library card, of course! A fight ensues, naturally, and Rex lures the samurai the mythology section where he picks up Demon Samurai and How to Defeat Them, where he learns the best way to, well, defeat the demon samurai.

Knowledge is, indeed, power.

Over the next four chapters, we follow Rex on his quest to reclaim the overdue book. Along the way he reveals his weakness for butter tarts, uses crystals to teleport to Benzine system, jumps from orbit to the planet below, frees electric snowman-like beings from tyranny, and ultimately battles Vaglox himself.

But who’s minding the Middleton Public Library while Rex is gone? It’s frequently invaded by, as Rex notes, “some pretty tough patrons. Gods. Undead. Alien Warlords. Vampires. Time travelers.” Luckily, Rex left the library in the hands of two very capable women: Circe, the Greek goddess with a fondness for bedding men (including Odysseus) and for turning them into pigs, and Hypatia, a sexy librarian who just returned from the librarian version of special-ops training. While Rex dukes it out on Benzine Five, the gals handle a few pesky, Viking-like vandals at home.

The volume teems with references to world history, mythology, and literature. It’s also full of inside jokes and riffs on comic books and the comic book publishing process. There’s even a comic-book-within-a-comic-book storyline, where Rex and his publisher, Barry, hash out whether or not Rex’s autobiography is just too far-fetched for comic book readers. Or whether or not the story needs juicing up with some buxom babes. Usually, I’m uncomfortably aware when I’m not in on the joke — and that was a recurring experience for me while reading Rex Libris. My husband, an avid comic book reader and one-time collector, had an entirely different reading experience: he understood much more of the satire.

While I like the overall concept of Rex Libris and much of the actual storytelling, I found it somewhat difficult to read because of its format. The volume is quite text-heavy, particularly for a comic book. Normally, I like a lot of text. In fact, I’m so biased toward text that when I read comic books or graphic novels, I usually have to remind myself to look at the illustrations. It’s not uncommon for me to get to the end of a page and say to myself, “I think I’m missing something.” Well, perhaps it would help to look at the pictures and not just read the text?

But with Rex Libris, I did struggle with the text. In the standard comic book format, the amount of text probably isn’t noticeable, but when condensed into the graphic novel format, the text-laden pages and small font size do affect readability — at least to my aging eyes.

That said, I still had a lot of fun with this volume. You can’t help but laugh at a kick-ass librarian, can you? If you’re new to comic books or graphic novels, Rex Libris might not be the best choice for you. But experienced readers are sure to “get” Rex and his comic book adventures.

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