This week I wanted to write about something sweet and lovely, far away from the silly horror stories and swashbuckling superheroes which have become my weekly ongoing comic book staples. So I looked to the stack of books-to-be-read which have somehow piled up over the last few months and found something perfect; Marvel Fairy Tales – a book mixing classic fairy tales with classic Marvel superhero tales; the Avengers (both young and old), Spider-Man, and the X-Men.
In October, at New York Comic Con I met the artist on the first of these tales, João Lemos and he showed me some of the original art for the series, so I knew that I was going to enjoy it. Lemos told me about trying to faithfully depict J.M. Barrie’s world and characters, and his joy at being part of a book which could bring joy to both adults and small children. After hearing all about it, I couldn’t wait to get home and track it down.
So I approached the book with high expectation of the content and I was not disappointed. C.B. Cebulski shows his writing chops by giving each story a little bit of the voice of the original author of the fairy tale of choice, as well as simultaneously steeping the whole universe in that of the Marvel superheroes depicted. It seems impossible, but Cebulski was true to both the stories and to the characters, highlighting the core strengths of both with his deceptively clever stories. Working harmoniously with João Lemos, Nuno Plati, Takeshi Miyazawa, Ricardo Tercio, and Kyle Baker a rich universe is quickly created, as varied as the stories they were based on.
Peter Pan (Once Upon a Time)
This evocative take on Peter Pan mixed with the Avengers was delightful and inventive. Our Scarlet Witch is depicted as a pubescent Wendy, struggling with her newly developing magic and body, while the rest of the Avengers make a perfect crew of over-enthusiastic lost boys. Lemos’ world is all sweeping art nouveau elegance and adorably rounded little people. He seems to be channeling some of Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo as well as a dash of Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, which is a great cocktail. It is simply perfect for the fairies and pirates of Neverland, prettily atmospheric, just a touch menacing, and in true storybook fashion – everything turns out fine and nothing really ends.
Pinocchio (Created Equal)
Vision’s truly earnest little robot boy makes an ideal match for the story of Pinocchio, all tragically different and confused by his nature and feelings. I’ve long loved the Vision and this is a great use of the character as the conflicted little boy robot. In many ways this echoes Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy, who builds himself a son to replace his lost one. Plati’s art is all angular inflexibility, carefully drawn as if, by reading between the lines, perhaps we could find the blueprints for further inventions. It is ideal for the story of a heartbroken father and the uncomprehendingly earnest little robot. The love and joy of this tale was just overflowing in the final frame, as the powerful “Scarlet Fairy” helps a family on their journey together.
Alice in Wonderland
I haven’t seen Miyazawa’s work since I took a peek at his art on Spider-Man loves Mary Jane and feared that this would be exactly the same. It wouldn’t have been terrible if it was, it just would have been disappointing, since the other artists had adapted their art so completely to the subject matter. I needn’t have feared, the minute Cassie Lang became our Alice and fell into Wonderland, the art also took a leap. Suddenly the world was richer, more detailed and just a little bit crazy. Miyazawa’s characteristic cuteness gave way to a sort of surreally cute, which is exactly what you’d want on a trip to such a strange universe. Everything about the Young Avengers was depicted in some twisted, funny way, allowing for a very sweet and strong resolution for Cassie.
The Wizard of Oz
When She-Hulk becomes Dorothy on a trip to see a great and powerful wizard, Tercio gives us a wildly sketched place, unpredictable and scary. His drawing style is loose, creating that insubstantial unreality we’ve come to expect from depictions of Oz. Earthy colors and big eyed munchkins give this the most cautionary feel of the tales, though it does have the sort of end we’ve come to expect as our Dorothy finds her inner Hulk, and returns to her reality with a renewed strength.
Red Riding Hood (Off the Beaten Path)
It makes sense that Mary Jane is good casting for Red Riding hood, with Peter Parker as her woodcutting fiance and Aunt May as the recipient of her visits. The idea that Spider-Man is just a mythical character, and Peter and Mary Jane need to work togetyher to fight the big bad wolf is a new one, and one that carries with it a nice message for young girls envisioning a future with an equal partner. Despite having the same artist as the previous story, Tercio uses a completely different art style to create a whole new atmosphere. Solid forms, air-brushed without line art, all come together to weave a darkly Disney-esque world for us to explore.
The Friendship of the Tortoise and the Eagle
Finally there is Kyle Baker at his darkest and wildest. While Baker’s previous work has displayed a massive range, here he picks his roughest style to tell a tumultuous story. Based on African fairy tale of trust and friendship between the eagle and the tortoise, the protagonists are a thinly disguised Professor Xavier and Magneto, battling furiously and all the while exhibiting a deep love for each other. His bold coloring combines a look of crayons, collage, chalk, and pencils, creating a rich world for the aerial adventures of these two enemies and friends. The shortest of the tales in the compilation, it is also the most intense and ambiguous, providing a rather mature conclusion to the book. In this ending, as in life, there are no absolutes.
Unfortunately, all of this talent must be carefully peered at from some very low quality printing. On the plus side, this means that the book is cheap, but I would gladly pay 4 times as much for a larger print on better paper. For some reason this is printed on a ridiculous toothy paper, which means that it soaks up far too much of the ink so that the lines all bleed and fuzz and the colors become muddy. What ought to have been a beautiful, oversized hardcover to put on a child’s shelf to be read to them again and again, enjoyed by all ages, is instead an undersized softcover. It is difficult to read only because of this terrible printing and size. What an enormous waste and a great shame.
These are timeless, beautiful tales, lovingly crafted by a great team. I hope that one day this receives and appropriate printing so that many more people can enjoy it.