Policy on Spoilers: I avoid saying anything that diminishes the experience of the work of art and aim to augment the experience of the work of art as the work of art that it is.
Art: Charles Paul Wilson III
Publisher: Th3rd World Studios
The team at Th3rd World Studios has crafted for a third time fine artifact that is a pleasure to hold and delight to read. But then, how could they misfire with such a dynamite premise: the Boogeyman kidnaps a boy, and his toys go after to rescue him?
In particular, how could Raicht and Smith, the writers, go wrong with Wilson’s to add his artistic flair? Flair is just the word, too, because Wilson’s talents suit the Jester grandly. The Jester leaps off the page just as well as he leaped out of the box as a “jack.” A Jester’s Tale may well become a favorite book of the series to reread.
Jon Conkling and Michael DeVito also deserve credit for the design and color that they contribute to the project. The well-chosen design makes the book look well over half a century old. The book is made of high quality, glossy paper, sturdy enough to last through several sets of children’s hands, but on the glossy paper are printed the discoloration of time and the frayed edges of oft-turned pages. As with Books 1 and 2, in my opinion, the single flaw to the design is the choice to use solid white word balloons. A reader becomes accustomed to them, but some off-white shade would seem to me to suit the finished page better.
The toys by now have suffered a division among themselves. I will keep quiet about what has become of the others, to preserve the surprise, but Jester has taken his leave of the other toys struck off on his own, first, to find the Indian Princess, and then, to council with her about to what comes next. Every so often you hear people say that they would like to see more of a certain character. Sometimes they get their wish with a spin-off that they wish away again, but A Jester’s Tale is the solo story that you wouldn’t know to wish for. It comes from a story that you care about, it features the character in new circumstances, it introduces new characters, and it does not leave the story behind. From time to time, the story gives glimpses of the other toys, and the boy’s arc reaches an important reveal. The Tale ends in good form with high anticipation for the next book, or issue, if the reader does not wish to wait.
The Jester is a romantic adventurer in the 1930’s classic Hollywood style. He could take to the pirate-infested seas just as well as the thick-with-thieves, merry forrests 0f England. But the conceit of The Stuff of Legend has a certain advantage over various roles played by Errol Flynn. Toys-come-to-life offers a nearly unending array of new and strange locations. The Jester can walk through the Jungle on one page and the Doll Nation the next. On the one after that, he can be attacked by a great sea monster and on the next run atop train cars like the dashing lawmen of the West.
The Jester wears the motley as worthily as Kurt Busiek’s Jack-in-the-Box (Astro City) and Robert Jordan’s Thom Merrilin (Wheel of Time). But unlike the superhero and the gleeman, the Jester has no coil-release limbs or confetti-bomb disablers and he is not a minstrel acquainted with political intrigues.
The Jester is a dual-handaxe-wielding rogue who confronts his foes with an equal relish as he romances the ladies. He is a Cyrano de Bergerac without false pretenses (Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac). He is a Sir Percy Blakeney without disguises (Baroness Emmuska Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel). But under his painted smiles and wooden mask hides a heart of flesh that burns with loyalty for his friends and devotion to his beloved, if only she knew.
The Jester is, as he ought to be, the principal hero of his tale. He faces off against a number of attackers, one being the comely queen of Doll Nation, as seen above. Another is a huge brute of a man whose weapon of choice is an anchor on a heavy chain. All of the battle sequences are rendered with great form and style by Wilson. The placement of the combatants is well established, and the panels, though still, could fool the reader. They convey a surprising sense of motion. I have to restrain myself from posting entire pages.
These attackers mislike Jester’s presence, supposed identity, or demeanor, but a certain, darkly familiar personage bears more overt malice toward the motley man himself. I might note here that the visage alone of this other Jester may frighten more suggestible children. His actions all the more, because he is a villain. Raicht has said self-disparagingly that his own “sickness” twisted its way into the series and made it unsuitable for audiences that are very young. No doubt, some parents will not wish the series to fall into very small hands. Not every character lives or lives unscathed. Still, the story is crafted by pleasure and for pleasure, and the pleasure of a child, in my opinion as an uncle of four, would be a fair judge of whether to read it to the little miss or mister.
Also, villainy, as I said earlier, is only one of the directions that dangerousness goes. The other is heroism. The heroes in The Stuff of Legend do not always talk or luck their way out of situations. Sometimes they act, and some of their actions have a severity to them and cannot be taken back. I will not entertain the question here whether there can be good without evil or whether heroism and villainy are not the same in the end. The good does not always win the day, in life, but, as Aristotle says, the true and the just are by nature stronger than their opposites (Rhetoric 1.1.12), and the same goes for the good. Heroism at its core is the superior force of the good. Therefore, without revealing the final slate of victories and defeats, I can say that the Jester represents the dangerousness of a hero like a hero, no matter the odds.
I should say something about the series’ title. The Stuff of Legend, to my ear, is a double-entendre. The title may mean that the creators draw from the “stuff” of legend, and many elements, as I have detailed, come from what would have to be called modern “legends.” The title may also mean that the series is aimed to become the “stuff” of legend in some way or other, not in the culture at large as a pop culture phenomenon, but in the minds of some young-at-heart readers. The series, though well-designed and glossy in its own way, is not the bright and shiny product mass-manufactured for consumption. Dingy and worn, as it were, it is designed to be the treasure that only some children discover and cherish, a few here, another few there.
In aiming at legendary status in formative minds, the series shows its excellence as a work of art, because the actions in it, which appeal so well to the imagination, are the sorts of actions that enter into legends, even if the personages who perform those actions are not. The “stuff” of legend, then, has another, somewhat ironic sense as the humble, homely material in those stuffed toy animals who become the fair, noble personages of legendary tales.
Books 1, 2, and 3 also look fantastic on Comixology and are currently available for $6.99 or less, a substantial discount from the cover price.