Review: ‘SILVERFISH’ – An Original Graphic Novel by David Lapham

There are creators whose work I’ll pretty much buy whenever and however it comes out. Over the years I’ve added David Lapham, of Stray Bullets fame, to that list (with the singular exception of his Batman work). So when I saw the recent hardcover, Silverfish, published by Vertigo/DC Comics, I bought it sight unseen, not knowing anything about it other than what I saw from the cover art. It’s not often that I gamble with hardcovers, given the hefty pricetag. Now this came out a few months ago and it took a while to get to reading this, but I finally sat down and read it. So did I waste my money?
David Lapham has had an interesting career, starting out in the early 90s as an artist on the Valiant line of comics. From there he became one of the more well know self publishers, with the crime drama Stray Bullets, which he wrote and drew. In recent years we’ve seen Lapham begin to work for the major publishers (on Detective Comics for DC and Daredevil vs. The Punisher and most recently Terror, Inc. for Marvel), mainly on writing duties.

It’s almost a tale of two creators with Lapham, comparing his creator-owned work like Stray Bullets and Murder Me Dead with his mainstream work. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t feel the same excitement for his non-creator owned work that I do for his creator owned work. I had a good feeling going into this book, mainly from the cover itself which looked more like Stray Bullets than anything else I’ve from Lapham in a long time.

silverfish_1.jpgOne of the obvious ways to identify if a book is good or not is by how long it takes me to read it. Isn’t it funny how comics work that way? A book that blows me away, I’m done in one sitting. I can’t put it down. The act of reading almost becomes a manic sprint to the end of the book. It was that kind of experience I had while reading Silverfish. I had meant to read a little here, a little there, and really stretch out the reading of the story, but once I started, I couldn’t put it down.

I don’t mean to keep comparing Silverfish to Stray Bullets, but given the type of work Lapham has done, it’s kind of hard not to. That said, where Stray Bullets was a series of crime stories, often dramatic and violent, it was rarely scary. To simply describe Silverfish would be to say it’s a crime story similar to Stray Bullets, but with a scary tilt to it. I wouldn’t classify it as a horror book, more like a thriller. The kind of thriller that that has you engrossed in the story, awaiting each and every twist and turn of the narrative.

The story takes place in New Jersey in the late 1980s, as we’re introduced to some teenagers. We find out how one of the teen’s mother has passed away, and her father has remarried rather quickly. She does not like her new step-mother, and with the help of her friend who has a penchant for getting in trouble, they discover her stepmother has a mysterious past. Sounds like the plot of a movie, doesn’t it? I’m afraid my description of the plot doesn’t do it justice, as while the story sounds like a cliche’ ’80s movie, Lapham is able to weave a story that is both relatable as it is enthralling. He has a handle on the characters, their actions and reactions, and development of the plot that is both elegant, cinematic and honestly thrilling. I found myself frantically turning each page, going from panel and panel to see how the story developed. I’m not usually easily pulled in to high tension story telling, but Silverfish grabbed me.

Lapham’s personal artistic style has evolved since his days at Valiant. His distinctive stark black and white look was established with Stray Bullets and has been used on his other creator owned work, like Murder Me Dead. But with Silverfish we see an evolution of that style with the introductions of grey tones. Still in black and white — but with use of grey tones — Lapham, with the help of colorist Dom Ramos, is able to introduce an added dimension of tension to the art. It’s amazing to see how the subtely of shadows and greys can work with the clean style of Lapham’s line work to drive the mood and tension of each scene as the book progresses to its climax.

While I was completely engrossed by the story and delighted at the artwork, there were two major problems I had with this original graphic novel. The first is a critique of a story element — mainly the mythical concept of “silverfish” and their role in the story. Ultimately I got it and understood it, but I felt that Lapham treated the plot device — little fish-like insect creatures who invade the brain and drive someone crazy — too lightly. Other than a couple of scenes and the title of the book, it’s not really explained or expanded upon. You’d think if this is the title of the story and it’s a virtually unlimited page count original graphic novel, he could expand on what these mysterious things are that drove the “villain” mad. But this is a nitpick, admittedly. It doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the story at all. My other problem with Silverfish was that it left me wanting more. More Stray Bullets and more stories written and drawn by David Lapham, especially if this is an indication of how he’s evolving his story telling and art styles.

Silverfish is an interesting book, released initially in hardcover, mainly a thriller, it almost fills a void of the type of comic book stories that I wasn’t even aware was lacking. Intense and mature themed, this is a definitely not for kids, but for a more adult, discerning comic reader. This type of book can be the sort of crossover comic that can be read by anyone interested in quality storytelling. But be careful, if you start reading it at 1 AM, I don’t think you’ll be getting to bed before you finish reading it.


  1. Cool. Sounds good I think I’ll check it out.

  2. oh yeah, i totally dig David Lapham’s work too.
    The first time i read his work was on the matrix website. He wrote and drew a short story for the wachowski there.
    Silverfish grabbed me the same way it did Ron, I couldn’t put it down and had to read it in one sitting, and it left me wanting to read more Lapham stuff.
    I own the 3 first hardcover editions of “Stray Bullets”. does anybody knows if the 4th one will ever be published ?

  3. I’ve been meaning to pick this up, but either forget when I get to the shop or get distracted by something shiny. That being said, I agree with Ron – Lapham’s indy stuff is much better than his Batman or Spectre or Punisher (although all those were good to great). It’s been, what, like two years since an issue came out? (Had to look that up.**). It kills me that Stray has been on hold for so long while Lapham works for the other companies, but Silverfish sounds like something that will scratch that itch for a little while. Just have to remember to pick it up.

    ** Do NOT, and I stress the NOT, type in in your browser while at work.
    With your browser window wide open.
    And half the office seated behind you.
    Not at ALL what I was expecting.

  4. I nearly ordered this book when I saw it in Previews (I usually try everything new from Vertigo) but piked at the last minute because of the price (my LCS marks up all hard covers by 200%) and the cover wasn’t that amazing, plus quite obviously, from Josh’s review the synopsis in Previews didn’t do the book justice and there wasn’t too much buzz on the internet about it but it is now on my buy list.

  5. Ron, not Josh.

  6. Sounds cool. I only have read Lapham’s Batman stuff (which was meh) and his Terror, Inc. (which is pretty darn cool), but this review has piqued my interest. I will definitely paw through the HC at the comic shop today.

    Keep these reviews coming!

  7. I’ve seen this in my girlfriend’s bookshop. I’ll have her check it (and that new book Cairo) out for me tomorrow.

    ah, the perks never end

  8. I did a review on this a couple months when it came back for the AICN site. I support it 90%, but I really think it had a pretty rushed and choppy ending. Other than that, I thought it was totally engrossing, and definitely worth a buy, though maybe a “40% off bin at a convention” kind of buy.

  9. Sorry,
    I kept on thinking it was Josh because it sounds like a book that he would read, but then again he wouldn’t have referred to the Daredevil vs. Punisher limited series.

    Sorry Ron.