Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review: Stuff of Legend #1

While World War II rages on, a smaller war in Brooklyn escalates when a boy is kidnapped by the dark forces of the Boogeyman. Unwilling to give up on their young master, the child's faithful toys decide to mount a rescue operation into the Dark. Outmatched and outgunned, they're still determined to see the quest through, no matter the dangers or the cost.

Th3rd World Studios published "The Stuff of Legend" initially as a Free Comic Book Day offering to serve as a preview for their upcoming title. Even though the local store didn't get the FCBD issue, the online preview did its job. "Stuff of Legend" promptly was added to the pull list with the usual nervous reservations about unknown titles and new publishers. Other people agreed since the first issue sold out, prompting a second printing, with the second issue due to be released in October.

The first thing that catches the eye about "The Stuff of Legend" are the dimensions of the book, shorter and wider than the usual comic book format, making it stand out amongst most piles of comics. The dimensions almost look like a children's picture book. The Free Comic Book Day issue was normal sized, beautifully arranged with little portraits of the characters in the white space, allowing the art to breathe better. Both versions work, but in different ways. Charles Paul Wilson III's art is absolutely gorgeous and the colors really work in establishing the mood. They could have gone all "Wizard of Oz" and had the colors bright and shiny in one part and gloomy in another, but grateful they didn't that direction. The sepia tones really give added shadows and depth to the scenes.

The writing keeps the action going, moving easily from the real world scenes to the fantastical. All the characters have their own distinct personalities from stalwart Max to the determined Colonel to the lethally effective Jester and even poor Percy. The two female characters Harmony and the Indian Princess are not simpering wallflowers either. They're just as brave and determined as their male-gendered toys. True, the Colonel and the Jester are rather over protective of the two of them, but that's treated as more chivalrous than condescending. You even feel a little sorry for the other toys left behind while the braver toys go off. The villain is unbelievably creepy. You can easily picture this Boogeyman lurking under your bed or hiding in the dark corner of your closet. You can hear him whispering in the dark. He knows how to get under people's skin and how to use that to his advantage. He preys on fear, after all. Even toys have fears, very particular ones, of being broken, mishandled, or worse, forgotten and unloved. They're strangely very human fears.

Everyone always calls "Stuff of Legend" a darker version of "Toy Story". The Comic Couch podcast #56 even reflected on the differences between the toys in each. Some of it can be explained by the era. "Stuff of Legend" takes place in WWII when toys are still handmade and careworn. They're the classic archetypal toys. They're given personalities in the stories, yes, but we can look at them and think of our own toy collections when we were children. Who doesn't have an old favorite teddy bear or a little toy soldier or a pretty ballerina? Some of the toys are even hand-me-downs to the younger brother. The ones in "Toy Story" are more commercial and popular, filled with in-jokes everyone can appreciate. All the same it's hard to picture Woody and Buzz Lightyear in the dark world of "Stuff of Legend". They're just too bright and cheerful. The toys of "Stuff of Legend" almost have a gloomy fatalism about them. You can hear it when the other toys talk about the closet and the Dark. You can hear it when Percy is already starting to plan how to divvy up the missing boy's things.

Being from an older generation, though, "Toy Story" didn't immediately spring to mind, rather the adventures of a redheaded rag-dolly and her rascally brother and a camel with wrinkled knees. That afternoon classic, "Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure", also showed the toys in the playroom coming to life when their owner was safely out of the room. (That seems to be a Rule in these stories. As children, we are allowed to play act with our favorite toys but they're not allowed to talk back or interact with us.) When the French doll Babette is kidnapped, Raggedy Ann & Andy go off on their great adventure to find her before the owner notices she's missing. The movie was light-hearted and fluffy and everything "Stuff of Legend" is categorically not. But while Raggedy Ann and Andy's adventures were fantastic and weird, there was never a doubt that they would come out on the other side. With "Stuff of Legend", things are not so certain.

"Stuff of Legend" is a beautiful book. It's really clear how much care and effort went into all aspects of this book from the art and story through to the final presentation. It's nice to take a chance on an unknown title and be rewarded for it for a change. Hopefully there will be many more adventures into the Dark.


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