Ray Bradbury's novel about a futuristic America where books are not merely banned but burned has pricked people's conscience since its publication at the height of McCarthy's witch-hunts. This searing cautionary tale, in which "firemen" destroy all printed material except magazines and comics, remains one of science fiction's best-known works. And it is now, perhaps, one of the best graphic novels of 2009.
In the story, regular citizens, not the government, decide to do away with books, deep thought and anything else that might make someone different. They want to ensure there are no more outcasts or rebels to ask questions that make anyone feel uncomfortable. "Everyone made equal" is the motto — a tyranny of the majority carried to the extreme.
Inspired by a girl who likes to walk in the rain and think, Montag, a lifelong fireman, begins to hoard books and question why they are burnt. Hunted by his boss who, in a psychological twist, quotes the very literature they destroy, Montag seeks out an old professor to ask what's been lost to the flames. The elderly man explains how books once "stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment" and taught people to disagree. Meanwhile, the nation gears up for nuclear war, and the public, unaccustomed to debate, follows its leaders like sheep.
Rendered in a vividly noir manner by artist Tim Hamilton, a longtime Nickelodeon Magazine contributor and a founding member of the hip webcomic collective ACT-I-VATE.com, Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation adds to the claustrophobia of Bradbury's original nightmare vision. Hamilton's twilight blue and murky green suburbia contrast eerily with the bright orange of the flames. The lines and dark areas are drawn in solid black creating a world of harsh shadows. His adaptation allows the reader to really inhabit this creepy landscape that provides an allegory for our society's ongoing discomfort with people who think their own thoughts.
Where the novel felt scalding, the graphic novel feels necessary. It makes this cautionary tale hip to the present generation and updates it by transporting it to a newly vibrant medium. It's slightly frightening that after more than 55 years, the retelling seems so pertinent.