This one came out of nowhere and caught me completely by surprise, like a monster out of the closet or a beastie under the bed. I remember the original title having a flurry of excitement around each new issue back in 2005 (I believe) but it has been a while since I've seen or heard anything about a new story featuring Joey Price, his loveable menagerie, and gal pal Courtney.
Originally released at this year's Comic Con International in San Diego, this volume of "Lions, Tigers and Bears" is available everywhere now. While this book was clearly intended to be a miniseries, it works nicely as a complete package. I could do without the interstitials with the character heads on them, but like "dead" pages or covers in any collected edition, those pages are quickly dismissed as they help keep the story's pacing on track.
That story, written by series creator Mike Bullock, delves into the Shadowlands in search of Courtney's cousin, Beth, who gets snatched away by Grillus, one of the evil Beasties. Beth is introduced in this book as a major downer, and the living embodiment of hurrying a child into adulthood, as she is hell-bent on challenging the imagination and faith that fuels the existence and power of Joey and Courtney's pride of stuffed animals:Ares, a white tiger; Henry, a bear; and Minerva, a black leopard.
The story is - literally and figuratively - fueled by imagination as the group of would-be rescuers finds that not only has Beth been snatched by a rat pirate named Scurvy, but Scurvy is also in possession of the River Rock, a mystical stone composed of pure imagination. Naturally, Scurvy shouldn't have it, the kids think they should liberate it, and hijinks ensue.
Early in this book, it seemed as though the "All Ages" marketing of this book was really pushed to the point where some of the story seems to suffer, but the latter half -- the introduction of Greybeard and his crew and the subsequent scuffle with Scurvy's Beasties -- balances that out substantially.
Bullock's partner on this book, Michael Metcalf, draws the story with all the splendor of a newfound coloring book. The characters are expressive and cartoony, but ensconced within the story. Metcalf's art is playful and detailed, fun and expressive. I happened to listen to an old podcast interview with Mike Wieringo during a break from this book and realized that 'Ringo would have adored this book something fierce. That, I'm certain, is due in no small part to Metcalf's stylistic leanings towards Wieringo's own animated style.
Beyond the complete-in-one-collection story, this beefy book is rounded out with a pair of back-up tales drawn by a couple of well-matched artists. The first is a tale drawn by storyboard artist Adam Van Wyk, who brings a very expressive style to his story. It's like looking at a collection of sketches from the "Lions, Tigers and Bears" movie that has yet to materialize. Van Wyk's story about a sleeping toddler and her protective stuffed panther is charming and fun, a nice, light-hearted, fast-paced tale that livens the book up once the main tale is done.
That story is countered nicely with the uncertainty of bad dreams. Written by Bullock, this tale is full of Dan Hipp's drawings that depict Joey encountering quite a nightmare. Coupled with the other short, and nestled at the end of this book, this story seems to leave the closet door wide open for more stories to sneak in.
I'm glad that "Lions, Tigers and Bears" is back, and I hope that Hermes Press is able to help this title find its way into the hands of readers itching for more adventures from Joe, Courtney, and the stuffed crew they bring along with them. It's a nice break from the hubbub of events and crossovers and reboots and stands quite nicely all by itself. If you happen to see this book on the shelves nearby, give it a peek. Maybe you'll find that you need some quality time with some stuffed animals.