The City by James HerbertBy James Herbert, Ian Miller (Pan Books; 1994)

A rare foray into graphic novel scripting by novelist James Herbert, and the fourth part of Herbert’s Rats saga (which commenced with the novels THE RATS, LAIR and DOMAIN). In truth this book is pretty slight, coming off as a so-so short story presented as a 64-page comic. Yet I do recommend it. Why? Because the illustrator is the immensely talented Ian Miller, who was quite inspired here.

The narrative is achingly simple, with an armor-plated man known only as The Traveller entering a post-apocalyptic London overrun by mutant rats. In this horrific environ, where skulls hang from trees and madmen hover around seemingly every corner, The Traveller explores creature-packed subway tunnels, meets his old sweetheart (and her half-rat baby!) and faces down the hideous “Mother Rat” who lords over the city.

Luckily The Traveller is well armed, possessing a weapon for every occasion: a spear, a machine gun, a flame thrower and plenty of grenades. Thus he never has much trouble getting out of scrapes, and there’s little in the way of any suspense.

But getting back to the artwork, it’s everything I’ve come to expect from Ian Miller: baroque, surreal and exquisitely detailed. Miller’s use of color is particularly striking, from the bright red skies to the blue-tinged underground sequences, imparting a peerlessly nightmarish hellscape. It’s striking enough, in fact, to nearly justify the scantness of the narrative; James Herbert was wise to stay out of the way of Miller’s art, letting it speak for itself in a succession of largely self-explanatory, sparsely worded panels.

It should be noted that Miller’s work here is very reminiscent of his illustrations for the stunning 1991 M. John Harrison adaptation THE LUCK IN THE HEAD, which was also set in a horrific post-apocalyptic city. THE CITY isn’t nearly as satisfying as that volume (it, after all, had a narrative that matched the brilliance of the artwork), but it’s still worth a look.