Writer: J.M. Dematteis
Artist: Mike Ploog
“The Sour Flowers gave off a smell like an overflowing toilet. They never mentioned that in The Edges of Abadazad,” complains Katie as she realizes that reading about Abadazad did little to prepare her for actually finding herself miraculously transported and living in this fairytale realm—a place where giant flowers try to eat you, where fast-food grows off trees, and where child-like faith governs the land. In ABADAZAD #2, by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog, Katie travels to the floating city of Inconceivable to seek help in finding her baby brother, long ago kidnapped by the evil Lanky Man and hidden in Abadazad.
Katie is a sulky teenager, raised in a broken home and guilt-ridden over the abduction of her brother, Matt. And it is at the pinnacle of her cynicism that she is magically taken to Abadazad. At first refusing to believe that she is now living in a storybook reality, Katie acts with a snappish smart-aleck sarcasm, which flavors her first meeting with the Shelloppers—rhyming, kangaroo-like creatures that Katie recalls reading about. She goes on to reveal a passionate aversion towards the Shelloppers, the situation amusingly comparable to classic Star Wars fans finding themselves face-to-face with Jar Jar Binks (who the Shelloppers slightly resemble). But beneath Katie’s scorn is a sad and defensive kid, most clearly seen as she clashes with her traveling partner, Martha, who Katie refuses to believe is real. Katie narrates: “I guess the real reason I didn’t want to talk to her was because I kind of liked her…and how crazy was that? Liking someone who probably didn’t even exist?” DeMatteis builds Katie as a highly sympathetic character, a teenager who’s so jaded that she’s afraid to believe that anything good could possibly happen to her. Thus, this story follows two quests—to find Matt and to restore Katie’s faith.
Beyond Katie’s complex character development are glimpses into a beautiful but dangerous fantasy world and its colorful inhabitants. DeMatteis quickly establishes the villainous Lanky Man, a spider-armed character that abducts young children who, “like hungry ants around a crumb of bread,” are so desperate for parental attention that they are easily transformed into his slavish “sons.” In this exploitation of children, the Lanky Man and his hoard of bad boys are reminiscent of the characters of Faigin and his pickpocket orphans in Oliver Twist. Lastly, DeMatteis introduces the benevolent Queen Ija. In a charming scene, the awestruck Katie relates: “All that came out of my normally-humongous mouth was this pathetic little squeak. Queen Ija laughed—I think it was the nicest laugh I’d ever heard—and it sort of…splashed all over me…like warm water.” Here, as throughout the issue, the language is precise yet creative and the characters are instantly identifiable yet unique.
The art perfectly suits the playful but highly crafted tone of the story. Faces are exaggerated and settings are whimsical, but there’s a great sense of reality in it all—as in the writing. Perhaps the best union of art and story occurs in a simple moment where Katie finally falls asleep. She says that this is the deepest, most secure sleep she has experienced since her family split; and as she sleeps, snuggled deeply into a lush bed, there’s a profound contentment that seems to physically sink into her wide, round face. More art of note occurs when Katie rides an enchanted elevator to Inconceivable and when her mesmerized eyes first reflect the vibrant colors of the floating city.
Although brimming with fantasy, ABADAZAD also offers mature and touching commentaries on the hardships that modern-day children face. Therefore, it’s no wonder that CrossGen ends this issue with a few pages devoted to parents and teachers, advising them on the merits of comic books to inspire both fantasy and communication. Arguably the best debut of the year, ABADAZAD is a delightful read that may finally make comic books something parents eagerly want to share with their children.
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