I’ve never read Peter S. Beagle’s novel “The Last Unicorn.” I know it’s a major piece of fantasy literature, but for some reason it’s never crossed my path. I did see the animated movie back in 1982, but it’s been so long that for all intents and purposes I’m coming to this movie with a fresh view. But based on this, well, I’m already intrigued, and I want to see a lot more.
Peter B. Gillis (of “Strikeforce: Morituri” and “The Defenders” fame) adapts the book into comic form, and it certainly flows smoothly. Unlike a lot of other book-to-comic adaptations, I never felt like I was missing vast pieces of story, or that it jumped haphazardly from one scene to the next. Rather, the story unfolds slowly but at an enjoyable pace, as the Unicorn first discovers that she might be the last of her kind, and then finally comes to a decision to try and find the others. It’s a simple story this early in the game, but it evokes such a strong feel for its setting and world that you almost lie back and immerse yourself in it. There are fun bits too, like that butterflies only speak in pieces of verse they’ve heard because their lives are so short that they can’t keep thoughts straight.
An even bigger attraction, though, is the art from Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon. De Liz and Dillon provide a soft, beautiful line with gentle colors that saturate and soak into the page. Reading the comic, I actually felt like I’d somehow picked up a reproduction of animation stills, with detail and lushness that would not look out of place in a Studio Ghibli film. At the same time, though, De Liz and Dillon are drawing something that’s distinctly comics. Those first few pages, as we see the falling flower in the forest glen, use the structure perfectly. The falling flower drifts across the page by how De Liz places the panels, each staggered off a bit to the side as they move downward. And when the hunters talk about an encounter with a unicorn, the flowing of one image into the next in a large ring around the pair of them is a wonderful usage of sequential art, letting each memory morph into the next in a way that couldn’t be quite achieved in another form of media.
Beagle’s story points out that most people in its world don’t recognize a unicorn when they see one; perhaps they’ve become too jaded, or have lost their sense of the fantastic. I suspect that if you read “The Last Unicorn” #1, you’ll find any sense of the fantastic that you might have otherwise mislaid. You’ll fall in love with “The Last Unicorn” in a matter of minutes. I know I did.