Return to Wonderland #2

By | Thursday, August 02, 2007 Leave a Comment
Curious thing about comics -- or any media that has multiple creators, for that matter -- is that it becomes difficult to assign credit and/or blame. Maybe the writer did a great job, but the artist screwed things up. Maybe the writer did a lousy job, and the artist saved it. Maybe they both did a phenomenal job that neither one could've done independently. That's why we continue to have debates about how much Stan Lee contributed to a comic over Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. I've worked on joint projects like that and, in all honesty, there are some aspects of them that I simply do not have any recollection of who came up with which ideas.

Which is my way of prefacing my review of this week's Return to Wonderland #2. The overall story in this title is that of Carroll "Calie" Liddle, teen-age daughter of the original Alice from the Alice in Wonderland books. Carroll inadvertently follows in her mother's footsteps, landing smack dab in the middle of Wonderland, only to find it's a heck of a lot scarier place than it was originally described.

This second issue begins where the first one left off, just after Calie follows her mother's pet rabbit into the basement and then Wonderland. Like her mother before her, Calie nearly drowns in a pool of her own tears, finds a caucus race, runs into Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, races through a forest of living plants to the White Rabbits house, and is greeted by the Caterpillar. We end the issue with Calie's dad looking for her back home, and Alice noting, "She stepped out for a bit... with some old friends."

Now, while that sounds old-hat and like a rehash of the original, it really isn't in its execution. The caucus race, for example, really isn't because all the animals drowned in Calie's tears. Tweedles Dee and Dum are both dead, bludgeoned to death by the Carpenter, who's also slaughtered the Walrus for stealing his oysters. The living plants more closely resemble Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors than any animated plant Walt Disney ever dreamed up. The White Rabbit's house is in ruins, presumably left in that state from when Alice grew to a monstrous size inside it in the original story. And the caterpillar, who we only see here in silhouette, looks decidedly creepier than John Tenniel's version.

There's also some seemingly new material as well. At White Rabbit's house, Calie runs into a mysterious blond woman/girl in a mask and cloak who warns her of the Cheshire Cat. At one point, Calie falls and lands in a lake/pond and almost drowns a second time. And, of course, the confrontation with the Carpenter is something out of a horror movie. (Side note: It just occurred to me that making him look like John Carpenter, right, would've been a nice touch and probably would've made the character look more frightening.) All in all, it's an interesting spin on the Wonderland story. Much, much darker and much more realistic in terms of the protagonist's reactions to events.

That said, though, there were some smaller bits that didn't quite jibe, it seemed to me. And, as suggested by my introduction, it's difficult to tell where "blame" should go on these points. The blade with which Calie cuts herself free of the plant monster, for example: where did it come from? She wasn't seen holding it prior to her needing to cut herself free, and she's never shown picking anything up. Now, is that an omission on the part of the writer or the artist? Or is it really neither, and just something of a miscommunication between them? A minor point, but it was highlighted somewhat by the weapon not really being decipherable as a rock until the last panel, when she drops it. Throughout its introduction and use, it could just as easily be mistaken for a box cutter or a small knife.

The biggest "problem" I had, though, was the sequence early on when Calie is looking for a way to make herself smaller to follow the White Rabbit through a small door. What's eventually evident is that the table upon which the classic "Drink Me" bottle rests is communicating with her telepathically, but that's not revealed right away. Writing the table's thoughts as if they were standard third-person narration, and visually presenting it as such, makes it difficult to understand that Calie is in fact hearing the narration as well. The sequence needs to be read multiple times to be understood properly, and even then it doesn't seem to be particularly successful. Again, it's hard to say that this is the fault of the writer because the artist and letterer both had something to do with it as well.

But that whole sequence is only two pages of the entire comic. The rest of the book flows very smoothly, both in terms of writing and art. And there are plenty of nice finishing touches throughout. The "Abandon all hope..." message as Calie passes through the keyhole... A small clock in the diner whose numbers are mixed up... The graffiti on the wooden crates...

All in all, this is a solid book. Aside from the two, fairly obscure issues mentioned above, both the art and the writing were well-done. I'm sure I wouldn't recommend it to everyone, but I'm intrigued and interested enough to say I'm definitely going to follow the rest of the series. (I was a bit more ambivalent when I'd only read #1.)
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