It would be a strange history text indeed that told of the denizens of Lewis Carroll's fictional Wonderland adventuring amidst the American Civil War, and yet that is exactly the story laid out in MAD WITH WONDER, the second collected volume of Frank Beddor's HATTER M series.
Turning the classic story of Alice on its ear, HATTER M: MAD WITH WONDER (Automatic Pictures, hc, 208 pp, $24.99) follows the exploits of Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan as he scours our world for the lost Princess Alyss. Followers of Beddor's THE LOOKING GLASS WARS are already familiar with the premise. What is presented here in the collected hardcover is a fleshing out of the full story of Hatter Madigan's thirteen-year search, mentioned briefly in the novels themselves. It is an extraordinarily different take on the familiar Wonderland, with Hatter Madigan transformed from a besotted lunatic to a formidable fighter, armed with an amazing backpack full of knives and one of the most amazing hats outside of a magic show.
The story by Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier is clever, and manages to entertain well enough. The characters, the main ones at least, are fleshed out in detail and are quite likeable. Even the animals get to have their say in the events unfolding around them. The supporting cast, however, seem to pop on and off the page far too quickly, existing only to move Hatter from point A to point B as expediently as possible. That's not to say that many of them aren't entertaining, just that they leave the scene far too quickly. The only one of note comes late in the tale, helping Hatter escape from a rather ironic imprisonment, and looking far too much like an adversary more at home in Gotham City. He's hard to miss.
The art, provided by Sami Makkonen, does a great job of capturing the feel of the story. The battlefields of the Civil War, the rainy alleyways of New Orleans, and the inside of a run-down sanitarium all pop off the page, and are beautifully colored. It is very different from what is normally found on the comic shelves, at times strongly reminiscent of the work of both Eddie Campbell and Ashley Wood. There are a couple of spots in the book where the layout confuses the series of events on a page, but these are minor and thankfully infrequent. The cover art by Tae Young Choi is positively breathtaking.
Overall the hardcover package is quite nice. Aside from the main story bound within, the back of the book is filled with concept art, supplementary text, a behind the scenes look at the making of the comic, and previews of both the next volume of HATTER M and ARCH ENEMY, the third and final book in THE LOOKING GLASS WARS.
Whether you're intimately familiar with the realm, or have not yet found the joys of Wonderland, HATTER M: MAD WITH WONDER is a unique take on a classic and is definitely worth checking out.