Readers will be return to Wonderland once more in this summer's all-new "Tales From Wonderland" miniseries from Zenescope Entertainment. The comic book series, created and penned by Zenescope editor Raven Gregory, serves as a companion piece to the continuing story featured in the previously released "Return to Wonderland" and "Beyond Wonderland."
In those adventures, readers followed the exploits of Calie Liddle, the daughter of Alice from Lewis Carroll's original "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" story - but the book depicts a violent, deadlier Wonderland than the version that Carroll's fans are familiar with. Whether within Wonderland or outside of it, the crazed creatures of that mad world seem to follow Calie wherever she goes - and, as Gregory tells CBR News, the newest "Tales" series thrusts several of those merciless characters in the bloody limelight.
"In a one-shot, you really have to get to the meat of the character right away," Gregory told CBR. "With having done the other ['Tales'] series, we were much more focused on getting straight to the story and holding nothing back on any of these tales. [Zenescope founders] Joe Brusha, Ralph Tedesco and I have our favorite characters that we know the back-stories to, and while there are others, we felt these four [in this 'Tales' series] worked best together this time out of the gate."
The characters featured in the newest "Tales" series include fan-favorites such as the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter. As two of the most iconic villains in the series - Cheshire is more of a behemoth than he is a cat, and Hatter is currently personified by Calie's twisted brother Johnny - Gregory finds that there's plenty of juicy material to mine from both characters.
"In the original 'Tales' series, in the backup story 'The Experiment,' one of the first test subjects to be placed through the Looking Glass is a stray cat. That cat has become the monstrous creature that has terrorized both Alice and Calie during their adventures in Wonderland," Gregory said of the blood-lusting Cheshire Cat. "In 'Beyond Wonderland,' Calie put a butcher knife to good use against him, leaving him mortally wounded. In 'Tales,' the cat - near death and trapped in its normal cat body - is trapped in the real world and unable to return to Wonderland. Chance has it that the cat ends up in a pound where a loving new owner takes it home. Things start to get a little crazy as the cat discovers how to get back its power. Let's just say the answer isn't very healthy to those around him."
Gregory's interpretation of the cat is a far cry from the disembodied prankster seen in Disney's cartoon version of "Wonderland." Here, Gregory renders a feral feline beast that's hell-bent on causing as much chaos as possible. "I always liked the idea of playing with Wonderland as a metaphor for the different kinds of madness," Gregory explained. "The Cheshire Cat is our psychotic killer, hence the need for a more streamlined killing machine came in order. In the future, we may reveal a bit more of his origin - but for now, his story is mainly focused on what lengths he'll go to in order to get back to where he belongs."
In the recent "Beyond Wonderland" series, the Cheshire Cat played a subordinate role to Johnny, Calie's younger brother and the current Mad Hatter of Wonderland. While Cheshire might be obeying Johnny's demands at the moment, it's certainly not a position that the ferocious animal is comfortable or happy with. "Johnny is the emissary of the Jabberwocky, so his orders take precedent over all others. The Jabberwocky rules all, and Johnny's his right hand man," Gregory described. "[The Cheshire Cat] doesn't like taking orders from anyone. Very much like a real cat, he wants to be free and you'll see this played out even more so as the series continues leading to some surprising turn of events."
For now, the Hatter's words are law to the not-so-lowly cat and the rest of Wonderland's inhabitants. Gregory's version of the hat-wearing psychopath has seen many different incarnations - from a handsome bachelor to an elderly rapist; there's no shortage of forms that the Hatter can take. According to the writer, fans can expect to revisit all of those renditions and more in the "Hatter" one-shot.
"Every person to wear the hat appears in this story, and there's one surprise that no one will see coming - but the cover gives a big hint," Gregory teased. "The story focuses on the journey of the hat that belongs to the Mad Hatter and the different people who have worn it. We're revealing the origins of the first Mad Hatter ever, and that's turned out to be a really cool twist. I don't want to give away the story, but there's a reason that the people who wear the hat seem to go a bit nutty."
In the previous "Tales" series, readers witnessed Johnny's transformation from not-so-normal youngster to the wildly psychotic hat-wielder that he is today. To be fair, Johnny's turn from dark to very dark isn't entirely his fault - after all, it was his sister that banished him to Wonderland. "Johnny has every reason to hate Calie, just as Calie maybe didn't think through what sending Johnny to Wonderland would do to him," Gregory admitted. "There are very few characters that are black and white in this series. In my mind, whether the characters are heroes or villains, they each have their reasons for being that way."
In addition to revisiting the Cheshire Cat and the many Mad Hatters, Gregory's latest trip to Wonderland brings the brothers Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum into sharper focus. To say that these iconic characters have been underutilized in the "Wonderland" books is partially true but not entirely accurate - their first and only appearance in the book thus far (that the audience knows about, at least) came in "Return to Wonderland," when readers witnessed their bloodied carcasses in the Carpenter's kitchen. It was, needless to say, a stark image that clearly demonstrated just how dangerous Gregory's interpretation of "Wonderland" could get.
"This story reveals how they ended up there and who they are in the real world," the writer said of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum's one-shot. "It also deals with a father and son who have this perfect relationship on the outside but in reality, it's all a mask. It took a while to decide who their real world counterparts were and it didn't really fit into the regular series - but in the 'Tales' series, we can really focus on each of these characters and let them and their story get the spotlight. But I can't say much without giving away the whole story."
Gregory is a little less tight-lipped about the fourth and final character in the new "Tales" spin-off series - the Red Queen. While popular interpretations of the character have often confused her with the maniacal Queen of Hearts - indeed, some non-Zenescope "Wonderland" adventures have merged the two characters - Gregory insists that his Red Queen is an entirely different persona, though not an altogether unfamiliar one.
"She's a brand new character with brand new powers that make her a real force to be reckoned with, but she's someone we've seen in the series before. I don't want to give away too much but she has a close relationship to the Queen and King of Hearts outside of Wonderland," teased Gregory. "The Red Queen was imprisoned for centuries - time moves differently in Wonderland - until the Queen of Hearts left Wonderland for the real world. With the Queen gone, the Red Queen is unleashed and she will let nothing stop her until she gets her revenge."
Describing the Red Queen's adventure as a "Kill Bill" bloody vengeance quest, Gregory said he's particularly satisfied with the dynamic between her and the King of Hearts. Still, he expects that it's the Hatter's issue that will "knock people on their asses - the cover alone speaks a thousand words."
While the "Wonderland" series wouldn't be possible without Gregory's storytelling, the artists that have joined him on previous adventures and this current "Tales" series are equally important to the Zenescope title's success. Edguardo Ferigato and Rich Bonk will handle the art chores on "Cheshire Cat" and "Red Queen" respectively, while three different unannounced artists will tackle the oversized "Hatter" issue. Furthermore, "Return to Wonderland" and "Beyond Wonderland" veteran Daniel Leister will illustrate a backup story that runs throughout all four "Tales" issues.
The newest "Tales From Wonderland" series is sure to get fans of the franchise hopping faster than the mysterious White Rabbit, but the background and origin stories wouldn't be possible without Calie's ongoing story in the proper "Wonderland" titles. But longtime readers of the Zenescope series should start making their peace with Alice's daughter now - her story is almost at an end.
"The final part of the trilogy dealing with Calie is 'Escape From Wonderland,'" Gregory confirmed. "We might come back for a prequel series focusing on Alice, but once 'Escape' is done, that's the end of Calie's story in all of our minds... but who knows. If there's a story worth telling, we might return to follow her story again."
The new "Tales From Wonderland" series begins this month with the "Cheshire Cat" one-shot, followed by the "Red Queen" one-shot in June.