Friday, October 30, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
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.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
So, what’s scary? With Halloween in shouting distance, it seems like a fair question to ask. Speaking for myself, I’ll say this. Something jumping out of the dark is good for a shock, and exploding eyeballs (for instance) are always good for a gross-out, but what’s actually scary is what you almost see, the things that disappear around a corner before you can focus on them, the things just beneath the surface of the world; the things that, if you did see them, would show you that the world we know is merely covering something vast and dark and horrible.
It's been nearly a year since I talked about the first Hatter M book here, and when I received the second I guess I’d forgotten just how much fun it was. The second one, Mad with Wonder (by Beddor, Cavalier and Makkonen), has actually ratcheted up the fun factor and has an even more wicked sense of humor. Royal Bodyguard Madigan is still on a quest through 19th Century Earth for the lost Princess Alyss, but this time he’s splitting his time between Europe and Civil War America, has acquired an enjoyably nefarious archenemy, and winds up with an assorted array of the truly mad in an insane asylum (though the true lunatics appear to be the doctors). Meanwhile, that hat of his has gotten even cooler – whirling its blades, deflecting bullets and managing to escape on its own from capture – and seems to be developing a rudimentary consciousness of its own. What’s this got to do with scary, exactly? Well, the heart of this baby is the weirdness of its profoundly strange art. The atmosphere, especially in the asylum, and the figural work are so beautifully stylized that they scratch the malleable surface of the surreal at times, making for a deep and at times deeply disturbing experience that feels like actually being shanghaied into a different world. There’s an uneasiness at the periphery of every panel, madness beneath the smiles of every figure, a sense of true darkness lingering at the edge of every action and motive. Scary enough?
Saturday, October 10, 2009
“Mad With Wonder” is the second geo-graphic novel which chronicles Hatter Madigan’s 13-year search for Princess Alyss who was lost on Earth after escaping through the Pool of Tears. This time around, Madigan’s quest takes him to America during the Civil War and finds the Milliner crossing paths with circus freaks, a group of outlaws, Mr. Van de Skülle, a child gifted with the power of healing, and a vampire as well as being imprisoned in an insane asylum...
The first Hatter M volume was nominated for an Eisner Award and won the 2009 Silver IPPY Award for Best Graphic Novel, so “Mad With Wonder” had some large shoes to fill. On that note, the graphic novel comes up short in the story department, mainly because nothing really happens. To be clear, stuff does happen in “Mad With Wonder”—there’s plenty of Milliner action with Madigan rescuing innocents and dispatching enemies, not to mention the usual twisted humor that can be expected from Frank Beddor like the escapades that Hatter’s hat finds itself in as well as revisiting the Milliner’s training—but overall the graphic novel leaves the reader hanging, especially in regards to General Jubal Early which will be explored in the third Hatter M volume.
As far as the artwork, I love Ben Templesmith’s style but was a bit disappointed with his efforts in the first graphic novel, particularly the coloring. So I had no problem with Frank going with a different artist on “Mad With Wonder” and felt Sami Makkonen was an inspired choice. I had never heard of the artist before but was blown away by his blend of detail, ambiance and surrealism. In short, Mr. Beddor picked a winner with Sami Makkonen whose work instantly improved the visual side of the Hatter M graphic novels.
Overall, because of the story I felt “Mad With Wonder” was a step down from the first Hatter M geo-graphic novel. Despite this, the graphic novel as a whole is more than worth its cover price because the book is loaded with awesome extras like a preview from the third Hatter M volume, an excerpt from “ArchEnemy”, striking illustrations, and a ton of information that ‘proves’ Wonderland’s existence. Plus, “Mad With Wonder” is still a blast to read, especially if you’re a fan of Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars...