Marilyn Monroe. Greatest sex symbol of the 20th century. Married to Joe DiMaggio, lover to John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, and to Hollywood stars and mobsters. Dead at a horribly young age. Why did she die? Did she really just overdose on drugs? Or was her death part of a horrible, much larger conspiracy? Who would gain from her death? And is her death a gateway into the assassination of President Kennedy?
Yeah, the questions sound familiar, but with a story like this, it’s all about the execution, and this book has a wonderful execution. Writer Gary Reed is smart. He doesn’t explicitly draw lines, nor does he play favorites, among the various theories. Instead, Reed’s looking to write an interesting and dramatic graphic novel, which is what he absolutely does.
I really want to spoil the ending, because that’s a big part of what makes this book so special, but I don’t want to ruin this book for you. It’s a big task reconciling all the various threads and theories around the deaths of Kennedy and Monroe, and Reed does a masterful job of sorting them out in a very intriguing way. His narrative is part declaration and part drama, part conspiracy and part high adventure. It involves characters as well as theories, and it’s the characters that a reader remembers as much as the various storylines we encounter. It was a masterstroke to set an established group of characters on this case, because they all have their own clear identities. You might never have encountered Raven, Inc., but Reed knows those characters extremely well, and is able to make them into real characters rather than simple ciphers.
And it’s cool how Reed presents Marilyn. She’s as much a character in this book as any of the main characters, but we only see Monroe from her publicity photos and hear conjecture about her. We never see the woman walking and talking. And yet she comes alive in this book as a terribly insecure person who desperately wanted to be loved. If this portrayal of Monroe is familiar, it also gives the book needed verisimilitude, which then allows the big twist about Marilyn to not seem as odd or jarring as it might.
The art, by a group of artists, is appropriate for the story. There’s no attempt to differentiate one from the other, though Ken Meyer Jr’s copies of publicity photos stand out as particularly nice. In a book like this, the art should be in service to the story, and the team does that admirably.
But the star of the book is Gary Reed. He does a fine job of weaving an intriguing thread of conspiracy that in the end left me thinking about the story’s implications.