Saturday, February 06, 2010

I was going to re-read the relevant portions of The Thousand and One Nights before writing this, but that seemed too much like work

The very things that make stories riffing on fairy tales attractive also make telling such stories somewhat dangerous for the creators.

On the one hand, they’re starting with familiar source material in which some of the creative heavy lifting is already done, and the characters and concepts have a proven, centuries-old track record of success. On the other hand, so many other people have already riffed and re-riffed on the very same source material that it’s very difficult to do something that doesn’t seem overly tired and derivative.

On Wednesday Radical Publishing released two new comics, both of which took their inspiration from classic fairy tales that have long since become a familiar part of our current pop culture landscape and, thanks to Fables, Zenescope’s line and everything in between, fairly constant presence in comics shops.

In both cases, however, the creators managed to do something new and engaging with the overly familiar source material.

The more straightforward of the two was Aladdin: Legacy of the Lost, the basic story of which is the same you’ll find in the Arabian Nights stories, the Disney flick, or any of the other popular versions. Evil sorcerer, Aladdin in a treasure cave, a humble lamp with a wish-granting genie in it, beautiful princess—you know the drill.

Here the evil sorcerer is Qassim, who draws glowy magic floaty sigils in the air that summon giant shark/worm monsters from the sands to do his bidding (i.e. eat people). Aladdin is the son of a whore raised in a brothel and trying to make an slightly more honest living with trick dice on the streets of Shamballah.

The first issue, which comprises the first third of the three-part series, ends with the Aladdin-as-a-prince arriving in town, magic genie (well, “djinn” here) in tow, and thus sticks pretty close to what is expected.

What writer Ian Edginton and artist Patrick Reilly bring to the tale, beyond a certain fidelity, are unique details in the form of some neat monsters—the aforementioned shark-like sand worm thingees, some giant scorpions—and some hints at a larger, more complicated narrative to come. Sinbad the sailor appears briefly, and much is made of an ancient city of magicians. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the origins of Aladdin, a connection to Sinbad and the story of the djinn and how it got in the lamp to be explored either later in the series or in future miniseries (the colon and sub-title pretty much promise future minis, right?).

Reilly’s artwork can be a bit stiff here and there, and I’m not personally crazy about the painted-looking style employed here, but it works fine—it reads and it moves and it always serves the story, which is pretty straightforward action adventure.

The world building is rather interesting to watch, as Reilly (and/or whoever worked on designs with him) go for a sort of modern exotica not necessarily tied down to any too specific a culture or time period… beyond somewhere fantastic and some time in the past.

Far more, um, radical in its reimagining of fairy tale characters, and in its visuals, is Legends: The Enchanted #0, a special $1 issue apparently designed to whet readers' appetites for a graphic novel to come in the spring.

It’s written and illustrated (Painted? Computer-painted?) by Judge Dredd and Slaine alum Nick Percival, and it sounds like the sort of comic book I would normally hate, but I’ll be damned if Percival doesn’t make it work.

He opens with a scene of Jack the Giant Killer killing giants. There’s a full-page splash of Jack: Long, shaggy black hair, face pale and full of scars, eyes glowing red, decked out in what looks like some sort of steampunk old-timey diving suit and a cape of moss and leaves. Pages two and three are a double-page splash of Jack posing atop a pile of dusty junkyard filler, lady giant in lingerie yelling at him in a red dialogue bubble while her mate lies dead at her feet, a huge axe in his head. Three panels are inset in the splash, and the giant and Jack seem to change sizes in at least one of them…not on purpose either.

By the end of the scene, Jack takes a magic bean that “fixes” his face (apparently it was all battle-ravaged at first?) and then he gets on his motorcycle and drives off.

Cut to a caption box reading “The Edges of the Bionic Woodlands,” and then an image of “Poor, poor Pinocchio,” who looks like Swamp Thing with Alice Cooper’s face, hung in chains and being tortured.
What the hell’s going on?

Well, as near as I can figure, in this weird 1980s heavy metal album cover art world, characters like Jack, Pinocchio and Little Red Riding Hood have all gotten McFarlane toys-style redesigns, and belong to a class of hard-to-kill beings called “The Enchanted.” There are some evil Enchanted too, or at least a couple of witches doing bad stuff and capable of killing the Enchanted permanently.

Oh, and Little Red Riding Hood kills a pack of albino vampire werewolf monkeys with a pair of sickles (that’s her on the cover).

Percival’s strange post-apocalyptic setting and decadent ultra-busy science-fiction/fetish/Hollywood superhero fashion is so fully realized that the familiar elements are all completely transformed, and the very limited use of them—basically just a single appropriated attribute and name for each Enchanted character—keeps it from ever feeling cheap.

This isn’t just grown-up, gory, grim and gritty fairytale remixing; rather it looks like something completely new and rather original being built from familiar pieces.

That said, this is only the first bit of the story, and these 22 pages are devoted to staking out territory and giving glimpses of some characters. It’s quite possible that Percival will end up in less than interesting territory once the story gets rolling, but at this early stage at least, Legends looks intriguing, and I’m curious to see where it goes.

Also, it’s only a $1*, which puts it squarely in the You’d Be a Fool Not To Buy It category.

*That means 22 pages of Legends: The Enchanted #0 costs the same as five and a half pages of Ultimate X #1!


Anthony Strand said...

I trust your judgment, but everything you say about Legends (including the title, frankly) makes it sound like a very bad Fables imitation.

On a (pretty closely) related note, I read Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer based mostly on your recommendation, and I really enjoyed it. The action and the silliness balanced each other out well, I thought.

David page said...

Yeah think I'll stick with fables

on an Edginton note this is not the first time he has written the character of aladdin...

Rich Gleason said...

I bought and read Legends and it's way different than Fables and the artwork blows anything in Fables out of the water. Definately picking up the graphic novel.