By | Wednesday, February 20, 2008 Leave a Comment
This week happened to see the release of three comics I've been getting that ended their respective titles: Return to Wonderland, Pirates vs. Ninjas and Umbrella Academy. It seems to invite a comparison, despite none of the three books really being similar to one another at all.

Return to Wonderland is a contemporary version of the Lewis Carroll "Alice" stories. It has a decidedly darker tone, and gets more into the terrorizing aspects of the tales. Alice's husband is an adulterer and her son is a sadist, while she herself goes far off the deep end, committing suicide in the penultimate issue. There's definitely a gruesome edge to this story and all of the threats are both more palpable and more emotionally scarring.

Umbrella Academy is much lighter in tone. It actually bears many hallmarks of more traditional superhero comics, but it stands above most of them for two reasons. First, the story is set early in the 20th century, giving it an almost Victorian steampunk veneer. Second, while the characters and their interactions are quite integral to the story and the main plot, the book does not seem to carry the burden of many superhero comics: namely, that each issue is merely a means to extend the franchise yet another month. The story, the titular team saving the world from one of their whose powers have gone awry, is quite deliberate and has a finite quality that is not seen in most of marvel and DC's output.

Finally, Pirates vs. Ninjas is the lightest book of the three, despite having the grand plot that places an unlikely team of pirates and ninjas against the Norse gods. The dialogue by all of the secondary is almost always comedic and the character drawings feature somewhat exaggerated features that become rather cartoony at times.

A direct comparison, in many respects, is not justifiable here. All three books had different goals and different approaches. They were all structured differently and spoke to readers in distinctly different ways. That said, however, they still all have to provide readers with a sense of completion if they want to be considered at least satisfactory.

In the cases of Umbrella Academy and Pirates vs. Ninjas the resolution of at least the superficial conflicts come when the antagonists are physically defeated. In both cases, the defeats come rather suddenly and with a high measure of finality. UA extends the threat, however, by forcing the protagonists to deal with the aftermath of what had already been started by the antagonist. In Return to Wonderland, by distinct contrast, does not have an antagonist to destroy but rather a problem to solve. "Man vs. nature" instead of "man vs. man."

Like most stories, the resolution is not at the very end of the book for any of these titles. Readers get to see something of how the characters deal with the aftermath of the conflict. Here, the stories all take distinctly different routes. Pirates vs. Ninjas provides several pages of summary at the end, providing highlights of the remainder of the characters lives. Something of a "happily ever after" ending. Return to Wonderland ends by giving the lead character a decisive turning point in her life; in effect, prompting a new beginning rather than just an ending. It is in this respect that the book is most like the more "traditional" superhero stories which promise perpetual adventures serialized month after month. (No judgment on this approach, by the way, I'm just making the observation.) Umbrella Academy leaves the door open enough to also continue in that fashion, but it's not nearly as blatant about it. Curiously, a portion just before the actual ending of UA has more of a summary approach seen in Pirates vs. Ninjas.

Personally, I find this summary idea somewhat hackneyed. It strikes me as something of a shortcut method to tie up whatever loose ends the author forgot to consider in the actual resolution. Because of that, I was somewhat disappointed in how Umbrella Academy and especially Pirates vs. Ninjas concluded. UA at least returned to something of an actual story after the summary section, but it still ended on a lower note than it might otherwise have. Return to Wonderland, while more involving in its ending, suffered a bit by introducing some new ideas just prior to the resolution that had not (to my recollection) been even suggested earlier. Not that they seem wholly out of place, but I think it would have improved the overall story if those newer elements could have been alluded to earlier.

I enjoyed all three titles during their respective runs and, that, in my mind, makes them all successful. I also recognize that my enjoyment of the stories over the course of several months make cause some bias in seeing them end. Indeed, none of the books finished so poorly as to color my view of the whole series, but I wish I could say more confidently that I was disappointed exclusively because some great work came to an end.
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