Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review: Jellaby: Monster in the City

I read several short stories by about big-headed little girl Portia and her big-headed, purple dragon friend in various volumes of the Flight anthology between 2004-2011 or so. I read (and reviewed) the original graphic novel Jellaby that Hyperion published back in 2008. And I just re-read (and re-reviewed) that original graphic novel, now renamed Jellaby: The Lost Monster and published by Capstone.

It was during the re-reading of the new edition that I realized that I never did get around to reading (or reviewing) the second volume of Kean Soo's Jellaby comic, Jellaby: Monster in the City (published by Hyperion in 2009; not yet republished by Capstone, if it's even going to be). So as I was preparing to write about artist Kean Soo's purple monster again, I took the opportunity to finally read Monster in the City, and find out just what happened after the cliffhanger ending of the first volume (You may recall that ended with Portia and Jason pretending to go trick-or-treating, but actually taking Jellaby on a train ride to Toronto, where they hoped to find his home, but they ended up being ejected from the train and having to walk towards the city).

Visually, all of the charms present in the first volume are also present in this volume. Soo retains the limited color palette, with everything being black and white but mostly purple, with only occasional dashes of red (on Jellaby, Portia and the new, second monster in this volume) and orange (on Jason's sweatshirt, and on his carrots). Soo continues to use his inspired monster design, with its big round head and dinner plate-sized eyes, like a sort of Golden Age silent movie comedian.

The story component in this volume is very, very different than in the first, however, as some of the conflicts in Portia's life merely alluded to or foreshadowed in it come to fruition, and there is a rather elaborate explanation for Jellaby and his relationship to the kids, one that sort of drains the character of some of his mystique and, therefore, his appeal (This may simply be a result of my having lived with the character for so long not knowing exactly what his whole deal was, but I do feel the character works better without a back story).

So Portia and Jason take Jellaby to a fair in Toronto, because Jellaby recognized a door on a building there in a newspaper article about that fair. After some rather scary misadventures—being very little kids, Portia and Jason aren't much more experienced with the ways of the big city than the monster, who is able to walk around out in the open because it's Halloween and everyone assumes he's a man in a costume—they eventually find the door, and follow it and a mysterious stranger from Portia's dreams to the bottom.
There they find another monster that does indeed look a little like Jellaby. It's much, much larger, and white with red in its eyes, a purple fin and a purple fin or sail along its back (Actually, it looks like a cross between Jellaby and a Spinosaurus...with an dead octopus on its head). Its not actually related to Jellaby, at least not in the familial sense that the kids thought any monsters they might find on the other side of the door might be, and while Portia deals with her fears and hopes, as manifested in magically indued dreams, the other monster tells her genuinely sad and tragic story, and tries to force Jason to be her friend.

It's all kind of complicated, but this monster, like Jellaby, apparently, are some breed of imaginary friend monsters that aren't really imaginary, but bond with children the same way imaginary friends might, and tend to get left behind as adulthood comes on, as imaginary friends do.

There's a lot of awfully high drama and tense moments in this second half of the story, and a battle at the end that seems at odds with the gentle humor of the Jellaby shorts from Flight (and many of the goings on in the first volume), but once all of Portia's fears are faced, she and Jason resolve their issues and the bad monster vanquished, things end rather happily, with Portia sharing the secret of her monster with her mother.

Not every single mystery and conflict is resolved, which leads me to believe Soo had or still has some more Jellaby stories in him, but this does go a rather long way toward explaining what Jellaby is and of bringing Portia's personal conflicts to a head in a satisfying manner.

1 comment:

SallyP said...

Pat Gleason is indeed...magnificent.

And those future books, with the possible exception of Booster Gold...look to be tedious beyond belief.