I think every child has a favorite toy. For some its an action figure, for some its a teddy bear or similar stuffed animal, and for some its a blanket (and anyone who says that a blanket isn't a toy has never seen a kid wearing one as a cape or flying on one like a magic carpet). There's a magic in those toys, and in the imagination of the child who loves them. They are best friend, companion, playmate, and in many cases protector. And it's that aspect, the fact that children look to their toys to protect them, that writers Mike Raicht & Brian Smith and artist Charles Paul Wilson III have made the centerpiece of their series The Stuff of Legend.
Set in the 1940s, at the height of World War II, a boy is taken by the Bogeyman into The Dark, his realm that exists in the shadows in closets. With their boy gone, a group of intrepid toys and one puppy head into The Dark to save the boy, where the encounter tribes of broken toys, malignant boardgame towns, the armies of the forgotten toys that serve the Bogeyman, and other amazing sights. And with each step, their fraternity grows more tenuous and their goal to find the boy seems further away.
Other than giving a background that is equally war torn as the land that the toys are about to enter, I think setting this story in the 40s allowed the creators to have very iconic toys. Today, toy fads come and go, and someone who saw a Furby or a Digipet might not have any idea what they are. But the toys in The Stuff of Legend are toys we all can recognize. Max is a teddy bear; Jester is a jack-in-the-box, Princess is an Indian princess miniature, The Colonel is a tin soldier, Percy is a piggy bank, Harmony is a dancing ballerina, and Quackers is a wooden duck on a string. But when they enter The Dark, each toy loses its aspect as a toy and becomes something closer to what they would be if they were "real."
The story is a journey, with fascinating and beautiful set pieces. Pieces is an apt turn of phrase when addressing Hopscotch, the boardgame town from the first volume, that is rigged for the town to always win, with the crooked Mayor running the game in service of the Boogeyman. This is a favorite sequence of mine, since I love the way our heroes play on the Mayor's own rules to escape, proving that brains, as well as brawn, are needed to finish their quest. In the second volume, we visit a jungle populated by animal toys who are now wild, and who have no love of human toys. We learn secrets in the Jungle that splinter the party, and set them off in different directions over the course of the next volumes. The third volume has some great adventures at sea, with The Jester meeting his long lost brother, The Laughing Ghost, who seeks the Boy for his own revenge.
As the series progresses, we get to see each of the toys grow in personality. Max, the brave and loyal teddy bear who becomes a real grizzly in The Dark, must step into the roll of leader when the Colonel dies early on, but the secret he hides is something that causes the group to shatter. Jester, who becomes an acrobatic clown and skilled fighter, is noble, but headstrong, with his impulsive behavior often causing trouble. Princess is also an able warrior but makes discoveries in The Dark that pulls her away from the group. Percy, though, is the most fascinating character to me. As a piggy bank, he fears the day that he will be broken, and initially makes a bargain with the Boogeyman to inform on the group to him. But over the course of the series he realizes what he is doing and attempts to find his own bravery.
More than just these main protagonists, all the characters in The Stuff of Legend have great heart. They are all fully fleshed out, even the minor ones. A knight in the service of the Boogeyman gets his backstory revealed in the second volume, and you understand why he serves his dark master. The Mayor of Hopscotch, while never sympathetic, is a delightful villain, always looking out for number one. And the Boy has become more of a character over the second and especially the third volume, as he has escaped the Boogeyman's captivity with a new friend, or so he thinks. Seeing his bravery makes the reader understand more why the toys are so loyal to the Boy.
I have this book tagged as all ages, and I think it is. While the series can be dark, and does not shy away from mortality or some scary images, I think kids are resilient, and would enjoy the series. As a reference, I think if a kid has read Bone, The Stuff of Legend is right in the same age group. For all the intensity, it's a fun book, with lots going on, lots of things that could lead to discussion between kids and their parents, something that might make them think, which is never a bad thing.
The art by Charles Paul Wilson III is nothing short of spectacular. I use that word in its literal meaning, as looking over his pages is a spectacle to behold. The intricate detail on each page leaves me in awe, with tremendous detail in the background of each page. In The Dark, even though all the toys have been transfigured into real animals or people, and the settings are realistic, there is still a sense that they are toys, or in a world that isn't quite normal. The art is some of the best in comics right now, and grows better with each volume.
The first three collections of The Stuff of Legends, titled "The Dark", "The Jungle", and "A Jester's Tale" are all currently available. There is also a beautiful hardcover omnibus collecting the first two trades. The fourth series, "The Toy Collector" will start next month.
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Due to Hurricane Sandy, I still haven't gotten my new comics for this week, so alas there will be no reviews on Monday. However, expect something new and different then! And hopefully everything will be back to normal by next Wednesday, and I'll return you to your regular scheduled blogging.