The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel
Reviewed by Berni Phillips Bratman
[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 47:12 (#341) in December 2010.]
Diana Gabaldon is a name well-known to romance readers, a writer whose books cross genres into fantasy. This book is a comic book version of the first third of the first Outlander novel, Outlander, evidently told from the hero’s point of view rather than the heroine’s. The cover proclaims that in this book, you “experience Jamie’s side of the story!”
The story concerns the meeting and eventual marriage of Claire, a WWII nurse who mysteriously appears in 1743 Scotland in a ring of standing stones similar to Stonehenge, with Jamie Fraser, young Scottish buck with a price on his head whose death is sought by both family and foe. We’re never told how Claire gets from the 20th century to the 18th but hers is not the only arrival in the stones. The mysterious Kenneth also arrives, but we’re told that he’s made his journey through the shedding of blood. His was obviously planned and he arrives naked. Hers was obviously unplanned and she arrives fully clothed, which suggests a different mechanism.
Jamie is newly arrived from France, agonizing over a love whom he failed to save and vowing to become a monk. Injured in a fight, he and his wound are tended to by feisty Claire, whom he and his friends have just picked up. She immediately takes charge of the situation, declaring herself a nurse. There is an amusing image of the thoughts of some of the surrounding men, to whom “nurse” meant one thing at that time: a wet nurse for babies. Jamie is immediately smitten with her and there’s no more talk of him becoming a monk.
Claire adapts quickly to her surroundings. She figures out pretty fast that she’s traveled in time, and tries to find out the year without being obvious about it. She left a husband, Frank, back in her own time period, and is startled by the appearance of the villain of this piece, Captain Black Jack Randall, a British army officer hot on Jamie’s tail, who is the perfect image of her husband, Frank Randall.
We don’t know when the mysterious and somewhat sinister Kenneth is from. He has come to join the witchy Geilie Duncan, another who has made a blood sacrifice to get where she is. In a sub-plot, they are working to restore the Stuarts to the throne. This seems a strange goal for people who can do what they seem to be able to do. They, also, are interested in Claire, wanting to use her to further their cause. Again, how and why is not clear.
To add yet another set of roadblocks, Jamie’s family on his mother’s side, the MacKenzies, are torn between trying to kill him or making him heir to the clan chieftain. The current chieftain is not well, and his only son is too young to lead. His brother is too hot-tempered to be an effective leader. It is feared that Jamie has come back to try to put himself forward as the next chieftain. Gabaldon gives us an example of how noble Jamie is: he offers to take a girl’s punishment for her (a beating) because he figures he can survive it and the shame better.
The best parts of this are the culture clash: the men thinking Claire is a wet nurse, the maid waving around Claire’s bra, asking what outlandish thing that could be, etc. Claire is a good heroine, believable and with a personality. Jamie – not so much. I am not familiar with the original, but this still seemed to me to be more Claire’s story than Jamie’s, and she was more interesting. He’s almost too good to be true. He doesn’t seem to have much of a personality besides being good at getting beat up and deciding he wants Claire.
The artwork is lovely: beautiful “painterly” backgrounds. Gabaldon talks at the end about the search for the artist and her visual conceptions of the characters. Nguyen was a good choice. He’s an excellent illustrator. The female figures are all easy to distinguish from each other, but I had difficulty with the men. Of course, when you’re writing about people who are mostly related by blood and all wear the same clothing (men in kilts!), the artist is limited in the amount of variation he can do. It’s much easier in super-hero comics, when you can plaster a big “S” or “X” on someone’s brightly-spandexed chest.
It’s likely that some of my difficulties with this would be minimized if I were familiar with the source material. Most likely the target audience is those who already know and love the novels. (I come at it from the angle of knowing and loving comic books and fantasy in general.) It’s stated that this is just a third of the first novel, so it’s possible there will be two more volumes which answer some of the questions. If you are a Gabaldon fan and also love comics, run out and get this. If you’re neither of those, this probably isn’t a good starting place for either.