Monday, October 29, 2007

Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars Vol. 1

Frank Beddor's comic book adaptation of his Looking Glass Wars universe has been collected in a lush hardcover "geo-graphic novel" complete with a plethora of bonus features. Although it's just one of many takes on the Alice in Wonderland story, Beddor's approach is so unique that it feels fresh and exciting.

Hatter Madigan has a huge problem. As royal bodyguard appointed to Princess Alyss, he is duty bound to protect her at all costs…but he has lost her. Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars recasts the Alice in Wonderland story as a real event from the 19th century, with Alice falling through the looking glass into our world instead of out of it. Instead of a jolly, crazy little hatter, the book portrays Hatter Madigan as a ruthless, highly skilled bodyguard who will stop at nothing in his quest to find and protect his princess. The main tool of his trade is his custom top hat that transforms into a whirling blade o’ destruction whenever needed. He’s also equipped with blades that pop out of his sleeves like Wolverine’s claws, as well as long blades protruding from a backpack that don’t seem to serve much of a useful purpose other than limited protection and coolness. In short, he’s a badass, and he’s in an extremely foul mood with his princess missing in a foreign world.

The story begins with Madigan’s search in Paris where he promptly loses his hat and his freedom before reclaiming both, while the action later moves to Budapest where he follows Alyss’s trail as it leads to some other recent arrivals from Wonderland, a few vampires, as well as a pesky reporter interested in Alyss’s story. Eventually, he gets sidetracked assisting a girl similar to Alyss, providing him with some heroic adventures while he continues his primary search. The pacing is brisk and doesn’t get bogged down with needless exposition, making this a thrilling ride told mostly through the visuals. While it’s a dark and serious tale, a few comedic touches are thrown in to lighten the proceedings, such as the Parisian tendency to lapse into an occasional Pepe Le Pew homage (“le huh?”) and Madigan’s delight upon entering a hat store (“an armory!”).

The key hook to get most comic fans interested in this book is the artwork by Ben Templesmith, who rose to prominence primarily through his work with writer Steve Niles on the 30 Days of Night series. Templesmith has a distinctly singular vision and may not appeal to more mainstream sensibilities, but fans of his loose and gory style will find much to appreciate in this series. His art is well matched to the material as he’s called on to portray numerous beasties and Madigan’s gruesome disposal of them, although the brief inclusion of vampires immediately pulls any 30 Days fans out of the story as it so closely recalls his past work. As usual, he shoulders all art chores himself, and his dramatic use of color is especially effective in this series. Love him or hate him, there’s no disputing that he’s a unique talent with an original approach to sequential art.

In addition to the 4-issue comic book miniseries, the hardcover collection furthers the conceit that its core story is real, with an introduction from The Hatter M Institute for Paranormal Travel, a posting of the Millinery Code of Honor, a Q&A session with Qs from questionable sources such as "S. Hawking, London" and "Larry and Sergey, Mountain View, CA", a page of Hatter's journal in his own encrypted text along with a cryptography key to decipher it and make your own messages, assorted ephemera supposedly collected from around the world to further substantiate the tale's legitimacy, a peek at the art process from initial sketches to finished pages, along with a concept gallery and cover gallery. The mini-series ends with Hatter's quest incomplete, so readers looking for the full story and resolution will need to read its source novel The Looking Glass Wars (as well as its new sequel, Seeing Redd) or hope that the comic book series continues in the future.

Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars is currently available in comic book stores and online at the Looking Glass Wars website.

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