Sunday, May 30, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 116 (5/30) -- The Stuff of Legend, Book 1: The Dark by Raicht, Smith & Wilson

First of all, a hearty ha-ha to writers Mike Raicht and Brian Smith for their title pun. (When someone makes a pun as obvious as that, you need to make clear to them that you got it, or they'll keep elbowing you in the ribs until you pretend to laugh.) In case you didn't get it, let me ask you to look at the most prominent character on the cover, and note that this is an adventure story involving sapient toys. Ha ha ha, right?

The Stuff of Legend is on the level of that pun straight through, I'm afraid -- though it's not humorous, except for occasional asides. Like a big-budget summer movie -- to which The Stuff of Legend has certain similarities in tone and plotting -- it's carefully constructed to appear to be fresh and exciting, while actually containing no real surprises or moments of wonder.

It's 1944 -- for no obvious in-story reason, since the real action takes place entirely in a Fantasyland -- and The Boy is kidnapped from his bed by The Boogeyman (a creepy pale figure with daggerlike fingernails and a tattered cloack, naturally) and taken into The Dark. The Boy's most loved toys decide to go rescue him, led by a soldier called The Colonel (though he's clearly a WWI infantryman; I hope Raicht and Smith know this, but I have my doubts).

The rules for all of this are entirely muddled and unclear; toys become real in The Dark, and The Dark has geography that matches the real world in some ways, at least some of the time -- but none of this seems to be anchored by The Boy's actual play and thoughts, and a cynical reader might begin to suspect that Raicht and Smith are making things up as they go along, with a primary purpose of making cool things for artist Charles Paul Wilson III to draw. Who The Boogeyman is and what are the limits of his power are also entirely unclear -- and The Boy, I'm afraid, is a mere plot token. A story like this needs to be carefully constructed: it doesn't need to be literally allegorical, but it's going to be symbolic no matter what the creators do, so they'd better understand the symbols that they're using, and use them with purpose.

Instead, Raicht and Smith want to just have yet another "rag-tag band of adventurers travel across weird lands and through adversity," down to the tedious cliche of having a traitor (or, to be more precise, a wavering traitor) in their midst. Wilson's sepia-toned art (perhaps that is the only reason for having this set in 1944? to give it an old-timey feel?) is suitably melodramatic and entirely professional; he's particularly good at giving these characters (a jack-in-the-box come to life; the stuffed bear on the cover, who becomes a large live grizzly in The Dark; a duck; a ballerina; a piggy bank turned into a real pig; and Pocahontas) reasonable expressions while they declaim their penny-dreadful lines.

The Stuff of Legend is "Toy Story meets Saving Private Ryan," and I would be very surprised if that precise phrase wasn't used to pitch this book at some point. If you have always wanted to see a behind-enemy-lines drama enacted in comics form by toys, today is your amazingly lucky day. For the rest of us, The Stuff of Legend is a pleasant diversion reminiscent of a dozen better stories.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Andrew Bird - Plasticities
via FoxyTunes

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