The Stuff of Legend, the surprise hit of 2009, returns this week with a new chapter in the ongoing story of a band of toys on a mission to save their boy from the Boogeyman. With “The Jungle,” Mike Raicht, Brian Smith, and Charles Paul Wilson III continue their solid storytelling, and take the adventure to a new level as they introduce new threats and mysteries, while furthering the reader’s relationship with Max, the Jester, Harmony, the Princess, Percy, and Quackers. In short, this new issue reminds me of what I loved about the first volume, and has me eagerly anticipating the next chapter.
THE STUFF OF LEGEND, VOLUME II: THE JUNGLE, PART I
Written By Mike Raicht and Brian Smith
Art and Cover by Charles Paul Wilson III
When last we left the gang of toys, they’d just liberated the town of Hopscotch from the rule of the Mayor, a proxy of the Boogeyman’s. Still without a clue as to the whereabouts of their boy, Max and the gang have ventured deeper into the Dark, and find themselves encountering more and more of the Boogeyman’s forces the farther they go. This new issue picks up with the toys mid-battle with more enemy forces, and no new leads regarding the location of the kidnapped boy. Though the toys are just barely able to win, they manage to capture one of the opposing soldiers, who they plan to question with the hope he’ll be able to lead them down the right path. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Dark, the Boogeyman grows tired of his army’s ineptitude, and demands to see results immediately. It’s a simple set-up that even those who missed out on the first volume (shame on you) will be able to follow without getting lost. The issue ends on a massive cliffhanger, which I won’t dare spoil, and it speaks to just how strong the story is that I only just finished the first issue, and am already desperately jonesing for the next chapter.
Mike Raicht and Brian Smith do a great job making you care about the characters in their story, and though the story is briskly paced, the characterization shines. It’s easy to dismiss a story about toys looking for their lost owner as cutesy and childish, but Raicht and Smith present their narrative intelligently, and never over-simplify or talk down to the reader. The abandonment issues, unrequited love, dangerous secrets, and heart-wrenching guilt that provided the first volume with such great depth return, compounded with the fact that the toys are only now realizing just how futile their efforts may be. It’s impressive that so much can be conveyed so quickly, and the layers of subtext only add to an already impressive narrative effort. This volume of The Stuff of Legend will take place over four issues, instead of two like the previous volume, and I’m excited to see what the writers can do with so much more room and time to develop their characters and themes.
Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to lay all the praise on the scripting. Charles Paul Wilson III’s interior art is just as strong, if not stronger, than it was last time. Though he’s got a pretty good eye for action, it’s the quieter moments where Wilson III does some of his best work in this book. The book is uniquely proportioned, and even though every panel and page is packed, the interiors never feel cluttered, and every character is given plenty of room to breathe. While I think the Jester shines in particular this book, Wilson’s able to bring so much personality to everyone in the cast that it’s easy to relate emotionally. By the looks of things, it appears as if we’ll really get to see what kind of artistic chops Wilson III has next issue, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a single thing to complain about with his work right now.
I enjoyed “The Dark” tremendously, and “The Jungle” is already off to a great start in surpassing my expectations of what this creative team can deliver. There aren’t many stories like The Stuff of Legend on comic shelves right now, and that’s a good thing. A book like this deserves some time to shine on its own before other publishers start noticing how well received it is by audiences of all ages and tastes, and try to copy the formula in hopes of capturing some of that same success. They’d have an awful hard time trying though, as The Stuff of Legend is full of heart and character you can’t fake.