The bedroom closet looms large in many a child’s imagination. After dark, that small space becomes a portal to a sinister realm populated by boogeymen and monsters. I have very clear memories of being 7 years old, shutting my closet doors immediately before bedtime and sleeping with a stuffed toy or five for protection.
The team behind the excellent The Stuff of Legend series understands perfectly that time in a kid’s life as well as the magical quality of playthings. However, this book is not child’s play. Set in the 1940s, The Stuff of Legend is a dark bedtime story that is as surprising as it is enthralling. If you’re a Fables fan, you should be reading this book.
The premise: After his closet door is pried open, a boy is dragged from his room into The Dark by the one and only Boogeyman. The child’s loyal puppy and toys — stuffed bear, Jack-in-the-box, piggy bank, Indian princess doll and toy soldier — set off on a dangerous journey to find him. The toys become real-life versions of themselves once they cross over, and they’re immediately thrust into battle with the Boogeyman’s army.
The Dark is a vast, unpredictable place with jungles, dark, roiling seas and a seriously messed-up town called Hopscotch. (I promise that you’ll never look at a clay monster or a game of Monopoly quite the same way again.) As I mentioned in a Newsarama review a while back, the book captures the disorienting, Alice-in-Wonderland quality that makes nightmares so upsetting. How do you find your bearings in an unpredictable fantasy world?
Writers Mike Raicht and Brian Smith provide plenty of peril and didn’t-see-that-coming moments, but the distinctive characters give The Stuff of Legend real depth. There are hard feelings and squabbles, romantic longing and good old-fashioned betrayal along the way. My favorite character by far is the quick-witted, nimble and brave Jester who, appearances to the contrary, is nobody’s clown. Some bad guys learn this the hard way in one particularly entertaining scene.
Artists Charles Paul Wilson III (illustrations), Jon Conkling and Michael DeVito (color and design) also deserve a big round of applause for making this story so visually striking. The characters’ personalities really come through in Wilson’s drawing, and the sepia coloring gives the book an appropriately vintage, dreamy quality. Once you’re in that world, you’re there until the last page.
The Stuff of Legend is into its third volume, but you need to start from the beginning to fully appreciate the story. A grand adventure awaits.