Despite its numbering, “The Legend of Bold Riley” #1 is actually the follow-up to a 2012 graphic novel, but new readers can effortlessly follow the issue’s self-contained story. Riley, born the Princess Rilavashana, surrendered her claim to the throne for a life of adventure, wandering the nation of Prakkalore and its neighbors. She now finds herself in the city of TanTan-Prie, where the talking bone of a dead man begs her to help put his soul at rest. With the same fairytale-meets-epic-song tone of its predecessor and new artwork from Jonathan Dalton, “The Talking Bone” demonstrates how entertaining an adventure story can be when it gets back to basics.
“The Legend of Bold Riley” is not a subtle book, but it’s stunningly confident. As in the previous stories, Worthington narrates as if she’s retelling an Aesop’s fable or repeating a famous folk tale. There is a rhythm and completeness to this issue; the narrator always knows both what happened previously and what happened in the decades after, and the treatment of magic makes the story feel timeless and well-known. There’s no attempt to establish ‘rules’ for magic as part of the world-building, which suggests a story that has been told so many times there is no longer a question of why ghosts, ghouls and other monsters behave the way they do. Only new worlds have to explain themselves. Here, there is simply the problem and the action.
Jonathon Dalton is not my favorite artist to work on the title thus far, but he has a compact storybook style that suits the material. His panels can sometimes feel like set pieces, especially where the human body is concerned, and there isn’t a real sense of movement to the action, so I was glad he didn’t have to portray much fighting. That said, his art is well-suited to an issue which centers on listening and discovering. I loved his design for the gluttonous, murderous well-monster, equal parts “The Ring” and bloated maggot. His squat inking and dense, detailed scenes give a palpable depth to the panels in the forest and town, and the colors are worn clean like a well-read picture book. Overall, his style is a nice fit for this particular adventure.
Though a rotating cast of fill-in artists can interrupt the mood of a title, I’ve enjoyed the fact that every Bold Riley story has a different artist. It reinforces the idea that these are old stories, famous stories, which have been retold by many different people, and since each adventure has been a self-contained story, it’s clever and artful to give each its own self-contained aesthetic. Issue #2 will continue this approach, as artist Zack Giallongo illustrates.
Full disclosure: I hadn’t actually read any Bold Riley stories before I opened “The Talking Bone,” but as soon as I finished it, I went and bought the graphic novel. “The Legend of Bold Riley” #1 offers everything I could want in an adventure story — and all helmed by a queer woman of color. With a satisfying, simple ending and an ever-willing protagonist, it’s a reminder of why popular old stories became popular in the first place.