'Dragon Girl' provides a bumpy, ultimately successful flight

You have to suspend your disbelief pretty hard to read Jeff Weigel's Dragon Girl: The Secret Valley, but it's worth it, because underneath some improbable plot devices is a really good story.

Dragon Girl is your basic environmental fable, about a girl, Alanna, living in vaguely medieval times who not only makes friends with dragons but defends them against a murderous knight. It's a neat inversion of the standard mythology, although it's doubtful that Alanna's animal-loving ways (in the first chapter, she tries to stop her brother from killing a deer) would have been as well-tolerated in the real Middle Ages.

The book starts out with the knight, Sir Cedric, killing a dragon; his team has weakened her, and he finishes her off with his sword, not realizing he has left her child behind. Alanna, out foraging for apples and mushrooms while her brother hunts deer, finds the baby dragon, and he leads her to a cave filled with dragon eggs. What happens next is what stretches reality the farthest: Alanna, concerned that the baby dragons will imprint on humans when they hatch, makes a dragon costume so they will think she is a dragon, too. She brings the babies food and learns to do their bonding dance, which identifies her as a friend. And when one of the dragons does imprint on her, she makes it a pet. This is just not how wild animals work, but I suppose since dragons are fictional creatures to begin with, it's less of a stretch than it would be otherwise.

Anyway, the story itself is a rip-roaring adventure. Alanna is kidnapped by a dragon who brings her to the secret dragon valley; her brother Hamel and Sir Cedric follow, and Sir Cedric, who is a bit of a buffoon, spots the lakes filled with molten silver and immediately starts plotting to kill all the dragons and haul away the silver. In flies an airship, piloted by Margolyn, a wealthy scientist who studies dragons and has access to some advanced technology like flares and ... well, airships. She brings everyone aboard, and Sir Cedric tries to take over. Ultimately, he causes everything to go haywire, and the last part of the story is an action-packed chase as Alanna and Hamel try to escape not only dragons but a flood of molten silver.

The art is top-notch, although I wish it was in color; Weigel has a very classic comics style, and he builds his world and his characters well. There's a lot of action and movement in this book, and he really uses variations in panels and composition to push the story forward.

Dragon Girl has a timeless feel to it, partly because of the setting and story but also because Weigel's style is so classic. It feels like the kind of book I loved as a kid, and as long as you can set aside the sentimental approach to animals, I think it still makes great reading today.

(Editor's note: Every Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss “The best in comics from the last seven days” -- from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done. We're trying something a little different this week by breaking our entries up into separate posts, so let us know what you think in the comments).

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