This new Vertigo original graphic novel is really disappointing. The creators involved usually do good work, but this book felt disappointingly humdrum and ordinary.
Let’s start with the good side before I move to the bad side. John Bolton’s art in this graphic novel is mostly quite gorgeous. He does a stunning job presenting the bizarre mystical world that many of the characters in this book inhabit. He presents that world as something tantalizingly comfortable, something that a reader can really imagine living just outside their window. His mystical characters seem like just slightly skewed versions of regular people, which seems perfectly appropriate to the characters. Queen Titania, for instance, the villain of this graphic novel, looks gorgeous in this book. She looks like a slightly more demented version of an older, dignified lady who you might see every day.
Bolton does a slightly less wonderful job with life in the real world. His depiction of the world of North London seems at first glance to evoke the city, until you look closer and see that many of the backgrounds are really quite abstract. There are a number of panels in which the characters seem to almost float above the ground, as if they are literally hovering above the ordinary world. This could be very annoying except that it could be seen as a reflection of the characters’’ mystical lives. They literally float above the Earth in their alternate lives, so it kind of makes sense. If I have one complaint about the way Bolton depicts the modern world, it’s that many of his characters sometimes seem like they’re molded out of plastic. The protagonist, Linda, is a beautiful girl with a devilish personality. Bolton does a decent job of showing Linda’s personality on her face, but her body seems a bit stiff at times. It’s clear that Bolton is most interested in his mystical world where he can allow his imagination to guide him, because he relies too much on his photo references for his real-world figures.
Based on Bolton’s signatures on the art, this book took three years to create. The first page is dated 2003 and the final page is dated 2005. This book was clearly created with much love and passion by Bolton.
The problem with the book is Mike Carey’s story. Very little in this graphic novel feels fresh – most everything feels like a cliché. Perhaps you’ve read the book before where a rebellious young girl is tempted by a mysterious stranger to discover her true nature. In doing so, she discovers that she has connections to a mystical land, connections that her family have kept from her for her entire life. Oh, and the secret allows her to come closer to her mother.
It’s pretty much dead familiar, with only a few quirks to make the story a little more distinct. I did think it was cool how Carey plays with the concept of Linda’s seeming drug abuse, giving the idea of taking IV drugs a different spin. But even that felt like something out of Hellblazer or another Vertigo book.
It’s hard to say that Bolton’s art was squandered in this book. Obviously to some extent this is the story that he wanted to draw. It’s just unfortunate that a story which took Bolton three years to draw has a script that feels so dashed off.