Alice in Wonderland
by Raven Gregory
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Alice in Wonderland (Graphic Novel) / 9781937068400
I love Alice in Wonderland adaptations (as well as the source material) and I really wanted to like this graphic novel, but while I feel like the idea for this volume is commendable, I think the execution -- particularly the writing and drawing -- is unfortunately rather poor.
First and foremost, I feel that the object here is titillation to the detriment of the actual artistry. The outfit Alice is wearing on the cover is far more modest than her actual outfit in-text; she spends pretty much the entire book in a cleavage-busting corset and a midriff-bearing skirt. I like the female form, so I can deal with that. What I can't deal with is the fact that after Alice's stomach and breasts are rendered in a panel, everything else seems optional. Legs come and go, costumes are altered between panels, and facial features change radically. Of the four major women characters in this novel, many of them are rendered with identical faces that nevertheless shift and change from panel to panel. I don't think this is a commentary on the changeable nature of Wonderland; I think it's just lackluster artistry.
Though I like the concept underlying this story, the actual writing is not very good. Points are repeated numerous times, and whoever was inking in the dialogue boxes seems not to have understood which words needed emphasizing in the jokes. For example, a card-suit character makes a joke that soon people will "call me the suicide queen". This is an obvious reference to the King of Hearts being called the "suicide king" because his sword is positioned behind his head. But in the dialogue bubble, the wrong word is bolded for emphasis: she doesn't say "call ME the suicide queen" (to differentiate herself from the King of Hearts), nor does she say "call me the suicide QUEEN" (to point out that there's been a gender-swap). Instead, she says "call me the SUICIDE queen", which rather ruins the joke in my opinion and makes me wonder if the artist was unaware of the reference. The rest of the humor is pretty lackluster: there's several jokes where the "punchline" is basically that some people in the world are fat. Very original material, this.
Of note here is the strange "footnotes" that exist in text. Frequently characters will reference things that took place in different volumes of the series, and a footnote will say something like "Editor's Note: See Call of Wonderland." This does nothing to clarify what is going on in-text, and the little sarcastic notes that accompany some of them (like "weren't you paying attention?") aren't nearly as witty as the editor seemed to think. As a reader, this strikes me as a bad attempt at marketing: I'm not likely to put down the current book to go get the backstory, and if I'm able to puzzle out the relevant backstory, I won't go get that volume later because I already know what happens. I know it's not easy to make an interconnected series, but I feel like there are better ways to reference off-screen events than with a non-explanatory footnote telling me to stop reading and go read something else.
Here I will insert a minor but nagging point. (Spoiler!) Death isn't permanent in Wonderland, but Alice needs to defeat a dangerous enemy for good. Early on, a mystical blade is introduced as causing permanent death, and this *feels* like a decent setup for a Chekov's Gun. But after the death of two minor and utterly unimportant characters, the blade is carried off by a mouse and we... never see it again. Maybe it shows up in a later volume, but a *lot* of the book feels like this: details are introduced, but then shuffled off stage and forgotten. After awhile, the reader starts to feel like half the book is just killing time rather than weaving a coherent narrative.
Beyond anything else, I'm somewhat saddened by how flat and one-note this Wonderland is. The writers have decided that if everyone in Wonderland is insane, then therefore they must all be *violently* insane. There's a lot of limbs and guts and gore flying, but everything is one-note. There's none of the sadness of the Mock Turtle, none of the cheer of the Cheshire Cat, none of the questionable work ethic of the Duchess and the Cook that added so much dimension to the source material. Instead, pretty much everyone Alice meets is immediately interested in killing her, full-stop. Alice's own inner narration even pokes fun at this, asking when she'll stop trusting people, but though this question deserves an answer, we never receive one. Alice just blunders through, heartily wishing to leave Wonderland behind, and eventually the reader may feel the same.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.
~ Ana Mardoll