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Written by Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier and Drawn by Ben Templesmith
Published by Desperado Publishing

Hatter Madigan , the royal bodyguard, has perhaps failed in his most important mission. The Queen charged him to escape with Princess Alyss and keep her safe from the palace coup undertaken by the evil Redd. But as they jumped through the Pool of Tears, they were separated, and now Madigan’s job is much more difficult. He has arrived in 1850s Paris, in our world, and things work quite differently here than they do in Neverland. However, he cannot let that stop him. If Alyss is in this world, he will do his duty and find her. But many things shall stand in his way; evil practitioners of magic; succubae that feast on imagination; and local law enforcement officials that don’t quite appreciate a man whose hat of blades tends to eviscerate those that stand in his way.

HATTER M was a book that I enjoyed quite a bit when it appeared in pamphlet form. It was intellectually interesting, had an interesting point of view behind it, and I liked the way he used the story, period. Beddor’s novel, THE LOOKING GLASS WARS, serves as the background for the graphic novel, and it also plays into the second novel of his trilogy, SEEING REDD. I’ve wracked my mind, but can’t think of another instance where someone has used the graphic novel format in the same fashion.

However, as much as I enjoyed the original floppies, they were a bit thick in the reading. Beddor and his co-writer here, Cavalier, definitely used a very novelistic style in writing this graphic supplement. This collected version, though, is a much easier sit. The story flows nicely, presented as a whole, and while it’s still a nice intellectual challenge, it goes down smooth, like aged whiskey.

Even then, it wouldn’t be nearly as successful without Ben Templesmith on the art chores. Templesmith is a guy whose work has grown up a lot over the last few years, and HATTER M definitely shows his maturity on the page. Presented in a beautiful hardcover edition, this is a nice piece of entertainment, and you don’t need to have read either novel to understand it. But if you do, it means that much more.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Henry Chamberlain
Published by Henry Chamberlain

Henry’s New York vacation draws to a close, but not before he has one last date with the effervescent and knowing Angela. But as he exits, he must deal with a metric ton of angst about his life, his place in the world, and a letter he should have worded a bit more carefully.

ALICE IN NEW YORK uses Lewis Carroll’s creations as background metaphor while Henry explores his psyche and the city. But even if you took those elements away, Chamberlain’s story of a young man trying to find himself would stand on its own just fine. That isn’t to say that it’s perfect; Henry (the character) borders becoming tedious with the extent of his navel gazing. Indeed, he’s so self-focused that you wonder if he ever managed to give Angela a decent orgasm. But you also see what she sees in him as well: a good heart, a genuine sense of caring, and a desire to become more than he has been. His personal ambitions revolve around being a better man, and that’s a very respectable thing.

Thanks to a nicely written recap, you could pick this book (the last of the miniseries) up off the shelves and follow it with ease. More indy comics need to remember this and follow suit. Chamberlain’s next move will be to publish the graphic novel edition, and I think he’ll find an audience in the bookstore market, especially in independent stores.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Shaun Tan
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

The immigrant experience. Most of us have read about it, or listened to older relatives who went through it, but not lived it. But that doesn’t make those tales any less potent. The concept of leaving home behind and journeying to a new, strange land to begin again… it rings true for everybody. Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL takes the immigrant experience to the next level, but it never ventures far from the universal truth in every story of a stranger in a strange land: you might arrive lost and alone, but with the grace of others, you can make a brand new life. However, you must pass on that grace to others in order to make the ultimate journey a full and compete one.

Told wordlessly, Tan’s book follows a husband and father as he leaves behind his wife and daughter travel across the world to a strange and intimidating city. There are dragons in the sky, strange creatures roaming the streets, and the language is baffling. But the man must persevere; if he does not, he will never be reunited with those he loves and misses so painfully. However, as isolated as he feels, he begins to meet others who have lived his circumstances and becomes part of a community. From there he truly begins the process of acclimating to his new life and preparing to bring his family into it.

Tan’s designs for his city and the bizarre inhabitants are quite striking; he’s a fantasist of the first degree. Even as a reader, you can feel why the man would be intimidated by his new surroundings. And the creatures are wondrous; no mere dogs roam these streets, but bizarre beasts that resemble nothing so much as white mice mixed with Ms. Pacman. However, the kicker here is that it all works and feels normal. Why? Because even in our reality, an immigrant coming to a new land would experience the same emotions and reactions as the man at the center of this story. Surely, those passing through Ellis Island were baffled by the size and scope of New York City, not to mention the wide variety of ethnic neighborhoods, languages, etc.

It took me a while to get fully invested in Tan’s story, as the storytelling lags a bit in the first third, but once he finds himself, the book really takes off and becomes something special. This is a tremendous piece of work, and I highly recommend it to mature, sophisticated readers.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Chris Wisnia
Published by Tabloia

Chris Wisnia’s homage to classic 50s giant monster comics returns, complete with more Kirby-esque art and stories, more pinups from some of comics’ greatest talents, and the same amusing affection for a bygone era that so many of us have fond feelings for.

Printed in the oversized tabloid format, DORIS’ stories and art are presented at 13x9, which plays well with stories revolving around giant monsters. It gives them a bit of humorous grandeur that their personalities don’t necessarily deserve, but for those reading for the fun nostalgic twinge… you can only imagine what it would have been like to get Kirby’s original monster comics in this type of format. How cool would that have been?

The pinups this issue come from Mike Allred, Russ Heath, Peter Bagge, Herb Trimpe, and other terrific artists of this era and eras past. Again, this is very cool to see; artists recognizing what Wisnia is doing with this book, and joining in the fun. Indeed, there’s a two-page spread by Art Adams that’s worth the cover price of the book on its own.

DORIS isn’t for every body; I suspect the younger generation wouldn’t get the joke, as they’re likely to be unfamiliar with the original works being paid tribute. But for those of us old enough… it’s a treat.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Pete Bregman
Published by Treehouse Animation Comics

Pete Bregman’s fantastic prequel to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA comes to a conclusion, and what a satisfying journey it has been. His tale has told us how the disfigured masked magician Erik began a new life in Persia. First, he became an entertainer for the Shah, then his talents for fiendish design were put to use in reconstructing the catacombs of the palace and tutoring the Shah’s daughter. But trouble has long loomed on the horizon in the form of rebels who wish to remove the man on the throne, and even if they aren’t successful, how can the man who created the deathtraps be allowed to live? What if that knowledge should fall into the hands of others?

Bregman’s work throughout this series has been impeccable, and they way he has breathed life into the character of Erik has been remarkable. I was sucked into the character’s story at every step, and even though I knew that he had a later life as the Phantom, I still found myself holding my breath when his fate was up in the air. I wondered… perhaps someone else haunts that opera house?

I became acquainted with Bregman’s work through his mini-comics a few years ago, and gave them a pretty solid pan over at The Shoot. But those weren’t even close to indicative of how talented an artist and writer that he’s turned out to be. Once this series is collected, I think it stands a chance of developing a nice shelf life in the bookstore market. I recommend seeking out this book; it’s worth your time. And I look forward to seeing what Bregman does next.

Marc Mason

Written by Scott Christian Sava and Drawn by Diego Jourdan
Published by Blue Dream Studios

Four young kids already think they’re about to have a great day. They’re on as school field trip to the Rooty Tooty Toy Company, enough to excite any young mind. But when they get lost during the tour, it becomes a more interesting excursion than they could have imagined: they wind up in a room with a secret stash of military-grade robots. And unbeknownst to them, the robots bond to them, setting in motion a number of events, not the least of which is a showdown with the factory owner, a man who wants nothing more than to recover his property and fulfill his illegal military contract. That means the kids are going to need a little fancy footwork… and a little help… in order to save themselves from a very, very bad man.

No one is working harder these days to produce graphic novels meant to appeal to the all ages audience than Scott Christian Sava. PET ROBOTS, along with ED’S TERRESTRIALS and DREAMLAND CHRONICLES, demonstrates well his mastery in putting together these types of tales. I’ve yet to read one of his books and not felt immediately that I could turn it over to an eleven-year old who would devour it.

Sure, there’s danger here for the kids, but Sava never lets it go above a certain level, choosing instead to keep the level of intensity at a place where it matches a classic Disney cartoon like BAMBI or even something like ALADDIN. And he’s aided and abetted here by some tremendous work by Jourdan, just as he was in ED’S. His art is cartoony but clean, never sacrificing the storytelling for flash. The book whips along at a rapid pace, keeping you (and younger minds that tend to wander) glued to it every step of the way. In short: another terrific effort from a guy who’s building up some high expectations from me.

Marc Mason

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