‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ a treat for hardcore fans

Reviewer’s Rating: ★★★

By now, anyone curious about getting into the “Millennium Trilogy” by late Swedish author Stieg Larsson has a veritable cornucopia of options from which to choose.

There are the original books, of course, as well as three Swedish film adaptations and even a critically-acclaimed Hollywood version for those with a phobia of subtitles. While a graphic novel adaptation could easily get lost in the shuffle, Vertigo comic’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Book 1” is a stark, dark and faithful take on the original story that will find a welcome place on the shelves of dedicated fans.

Fresh off a public disgrace after being convicted of libel, journalist Mikael Blomkvist receives his toughest case yet when he is hired by Henrik Vanger, the elderly leader of the powerful Vanger Corporation. Vanger has been tormented for 40 years by the mysterious disappearance of his beloved great-niece, Harriet. Her body was never found, and the old man is convinced that her killer was a member of his own ruthless, dysfunctional family. Under the guise of writing a Vanger family history, Blomkvist begins investigating Harriet’s disappearance and the family’s dark past.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander, a world-class hacker with punk-goth fashion sense and a troubled past, has taken an interest in Blomkvist’s activities, but is hesitant to get involved. She’s got her hands full dealing with a corrupt and perverse legal guardian, who takes advantage of his ability to control her finances to make sexual advances toward her.

Especially in this first volume, Lisbeth’s story is harrowing and horrifying, and provides a vivid example of the story’s focus on violence toward women. Having suffered at the hands of men all her life, Lisbeth hungers for a way to set the world right and teaming up with Blomkvist is just the way to do it.

That’s the gist of the story that you probably already know, but Mikael and Lisbeth never actually get to meet in “Dragon Tattoo Book 1.” The story includes several scenes which were cut from the streamlined film versions, which will delight hardcore fans and annoy those who just want to know what happens. This first volume takes its time following the plot of the book, and as a result, doesn’t get particularly far into the story.

At $20 a volume, it’s hard to ignore that obtaining the series in graphic novel format is much slower and costlier than just renting the movies or picking up the paperbacks on the cheap. Not many will be able to justify spending so much more to read a story that their friends and co-workers tore through during the initial craze a few years ago or before the movies came out. It’s a shame that these graphic novel versions weren’t released earlier, because poor release timing is really the only fault to be found with this latest incarnation.

The art, by Leonardo Manco, is fantastic, evoking a feeling of unease and pervasive pessimism that seems etched onto the lines of every grimy alley, leafless tree and jaded stare.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a dip into the dark side of humanity in a bleak landscape where vengeance and justice are the only consolation prizes for a world where those with power abuse it, and this stark vision comes across with every panel. Lisbeth, especially, stares out from the page with a tortured intensity that does the character’s life of hardship justice and will linger in the reader’s imagination.

For super-fans eager to gobble up anything related to the Millennium series, this first volume will make a fantastic addition to their collection. For anyone else, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll be willing to spend so much extra to read the story in graphic novel form when it’s practically impossible not to trip over all the other versions of the story already out there.

Those who do, however, will be thrilled -- and chilled -- by this faithful and grim adaptation of the international bestseller.