"Alena" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written and illustrated by Kim W. Andersson
2012, 136 Pages
Trade paperback released on August 24th, 2016
The rite of passage that is high school can be a horrible experience for just about everyone. Alena has it particularly rough. She's in a new school where everyone hates her. The snobby rich girl is bullying her. She's all alone, except for her friend Josephine. The thing is, Josephine's been dead for a year. If that's the case, how is she doing all these violent things to protect Alena?
Alena tells a tale that's familiar to anyone that went through high school. The title character is a shy girl who most folks can relate to. The one person that seemed to understand her jumped off a bridge a year ago. That's where she veers off from your average high school student. When Alena finally starts to come out of her shell, things get bloody.
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Writer / artist Kim W. Andersson's design for the characters says so much about each of them. Alena's hair is down, constantly covering her eyes. Meanwhile, lacrosse player / bully Philippa has a face that you just want to slap. Josephine is the most visually interesting. She's always in the shadows, clad in beat up clothes. Her hoodie pulled up to cover most of her face. It's like she's literally decomposing before our eyes. She's colored differently as well, always in a grey tone even when the world around her is bright and full of life. I guess that makes sense, given that she's dead, right?
Andersson's covers for this book are beautiful. The original Swedish version has an almost full-body shot of Alena absolutely covered in blood. For Dark Horse's re-release of the graphic novel, it's a close-up of Alena's face with her eyes hidden within her hair. Blood is splattered all over. It's a simple effect that speaks volumes.
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There's a twist at the end of Alena that works with the story, although it's very predictable. It's one we've seen in a number of movies and books before, none of which I can name because they would immediately give it away. This doesn't cheapen the ending, but it does take away some of its impact. This is somewhat redeemed by the final page, which reframes the story a bit, casting it in a new light depending on how you see it.
Andersson instantly transports you back to high school with Alena, presenting very real characters going through situations that kids experience every day. The added element of a murderous ghost of a best friend is certainly unique, although the twist at the end is something you can see coming from a mile away. Alena is now a feature film and I think it would make an excellent transition to that medium, so I'm definitely curious as to what that translation looks like.