Tuesday, August 5, 2014

[Graphic Novel Review] The Stuff of Legend, Volume 2: The Jungle

The Stuff of Legend, Volume 2: The Jungle
Th3rd World Studios, 2009
Writers: Mike Raicht, Brian Smith
Penciler: Charles Paul Wilson III
Colorists: Michael DeVito, Jon Conkling
Editors: Michael DeVito, Jon Conkling

The second volume gets off to a strong start, and the plot is solid up until the genuinely shocking plot-twist near the end of Act II (a disturbing revelation about the past actions of one of our own heroes!) and even right on through to the end (which is truly unexpected and even a little heartbreaking). Characterization continues to be solid, psychological, and interesting, adding the the complexity of the growing relationship between Jester and the Princess.

However, despite the promise of the first volume (and its excellent concept), there are a few things about the series so far that bug me:

  1. The Princess isn't the badass we were promised. In one of the extra features of Volume 1, "The Colonel's Journal", he comments that The Boy may have made a mistake not using her in the frontlines of more imaginary battles, since she's proving so tough and strong. Yet even by the end of Volume 2, we have still yet to see her do anything that's truly badass. We hear a lot about how well she fights, but she does most of that fighting off-camera, and it's not really any more spectacular than the fighting that other characters do. It's a little insulting to insert a "strong" female character, tell us what a BAMF she's going to be, then have her spend the first volume existing solely as a love-interest for a male character, and the second volume either injured, slowing the party down, teetering on the verge of death, and needing medical attention from everyone else. I really hope that the Princess turns it around in Volume 3 and displays some of her fabled battle-prowess.
  2. There are some embarrassing errors of spelling and word-choice mistakes. Mixing up fair with fare is a common word-choice mistake, and easily forgivable in everyday writing, but it's the kind of mistake that one expects not to see in a professionally-published graphic novel which has crossed the desk of at least one editor. There are several examples of poor word-choice in this book (counsel vs. council, for example), and as an English major they bother more than they might for others.
  3. "The Boy" still doesn't have a name. I understand that the author was trying to make The Boy a little more universal by not giving him a name, so he could seem to be anyone, but by Volume 2 it's getting kind of weird that nobody refers to him by name, not even his parents or little brother in flashbacks. I would have thought they'd go with "Johnny" or something, but that's already his kid brother's name, so no dice on that option. Perhaps we'll find out in Volume 3?
  4. Use of dialect is spotty and inconsistent. At one point, the escaping Boy and his mysterious companion jump a train and meet with a friendly conductor and his talking steam-engine. The two of them speak a version of American English which is slightly more dialectical than what the other characters speak, but only by a hair; it feels like the author filled in their speech-bubbles with a rough approximation of the dialogue of Yosemite Sam (sans the profanity), but never bothered to go back and make sure that it actually sounded like real people speak, or even like they speak in Western movies. The same thing applies to Jester, come to think of it: he gives the impression of being vaguely British and medieval, but nothing more.
  5. The characters' expressions don't always match the action at hand. The artwork is gorgeous and atmospheric (I'm still loving the 'sepia-toned photo album' layout and the extensive use of chiaroscuro), but sometimes - let me reiterate: only sometimes - the facial expressions and body-language just don't match the action at hand. I feel like I'm not watching someone react to a thing, I'm looking at an artist's rendition of how an actor might react to that thing. It puts an extra layer of distance between me and the characters, like I'm watching them through a layer of Saran-wrap. for I feel like this happens with The Boy in particular, but it happens to most characters in at least one panel.
Overall, The Stuff of Legend continues to be a highly enjoyable series, based on one of the most original and intriguing concepts I've encountered in a long time. Unfortunately, in execution it still falls a little short of the high promise of said concept; here's hoping the author and artist can still wow us in Volume 3!