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‘THE FIFTH BEATLE’ (graphic novel review)

Review by Todd Sokolove

In a 1997 BBC documentary about Beatles manager Brian Epstein, Paul McCartney called the man a “fifth Beatle, if there ever was one.”

Hitting stores next Tuesday, November 19th is Dark Horse’s Graphic Novel tale appropriately subtitled “The Brian Epstein Story” if there ever was one.
With an overly stylish approach that mixes various retro comic styles with modern graphic novel storytelling from writer Vivek J. Tiwary and artists Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker, The Fifth Beatle is an origin story from a point of view that’s always been a side note in any history of the Fab Four.  Epstein is often summarized as being a visionary who battled anti-semitism, a drug addition and his own acceptance with his sexuality while masterfully bringing fame to a little band from Liverpool.
By shifting the focus to Brian Epstein though, the creators of this novel have attempted to humanize 
the person who was accepted by John, Paul, Ringo and George as a mentor and mensch.  All of this is done with the backdrop of a story you’ve heard before, but this telling only briefly shifts in and out of Beatles history providing the context of Epstein’s personal highs and lows.
It’s an incredible tale when it’s the “Brian Epstein Story,” with some really heartfelt moments. That’s where the novel excels and becomes a must-read LGBT related history.  This is a man who overcame the odds against him.  There’s allegory and reverence in spades.  
Yet, when The Fifth Beatle recreates Beatles history, it’s much too staged.  Much of the band’s life was captured on television and film, and every press conference or public appearance is told through a nostalgic lens.  I would have much preferred that even the backstage, imagined moments of this story were a little more human and less, well, cartoonish.  Even the dialogue between the rockers is a tad “Hard Days Night.”
Not that this discounts the overall fun of the project, which is carried out with stylized spirit and often a sense of sharp humor or social criticism.  The novel’s meeting between Epstein and Elvis manager Colonel Parker is certainly an example of where it works.
The whole project is ambitious (it’s even in development now as a film), and if you’re a fan of the Beatles, a history buff or music in general, you’ll find it very entertaining.  
Every time I picked up the book, I’d find myself needing to fire up my copy of Meet the Beatles (mono, vinyl of course).

In that sense, I’d say it’s a success from the toppermost of the poppermost.

After the jump check out an excerpt of The Fifth Beatle, which is on sale everywhere November 19th!

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