I am pleasantly surprised and encouraged by the resurgence of the graphic novel in the American anthology of boyhood fiction. Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid are two series that have led the way for this trend; is Malice in the same ballpark? Maybe…
I am pleasantly surprised by this offering from Chris Wooding. It has ignited an interest in the horror/thriller comic genre within my inner 8-year old. It is certainly not meant to be as comical and lighthearted as the aforementioned titles (children die halfway through the book), yet it has the ability to relate to the audience it tries to reach while unintentionally appealing to a bibliophile such as myself. The story is best thought of as dark with glimpses of light, much like molasses’ color and subtle sweetness. The press advance for this book totes it as part book, part graphic novel and it definitely is more than part book. That is my biggest negative criticism: it takes so long to come to the graphic novel part that it may turn off the most hard to reach children. If the story were more evenly dispersed between text and panel. I believe it would have reached a more dedicated audience. As it is right now, I think they lose a lot of the intended audience with the length of text passages between the comic sections.
Structure withstanding, this story truly stands alone. The plot, without spoilers, centers around a group of teenage friends in and around London who have heard a rumor for years of this comic adventure that children can literally “enter” into. There is a special ritual that kids can perform that will bring this ethereal figure to their homes to “take them away,” that being a bogeyman character by the name of Tall Jake. He then takes you by train to this wasteland of human existence known as Malice. The Malice world is only a wasteland to humanity because it is occupied by these half-organic half-machine creations (Wooding calls them automatons) of an evil overlord known as the Timekeeper. This story has all the right elements of popular fiction for young kids in America, with clear evil antagonists and a group of innocent protagonists whose goal is to defeat that evil which enslaves and overtakes potentially hundreds of local children through deception and proliferation of this “evil” comic.
The flow was disjointed at first because it takes place outside the comic and the group of kids are debating how to perform the ritual. Later on in the first few chapters it comes around to where Tall Jake takes them to Malice, not just away from their homes, and the story rolls pretty seamlessly from there. Imagery helps to invoke a sense of strained hope with the metallic underground of the clock tower that eventually is supplanted by the wondrous insanity that is the Menagerie. This story takes you on a deranged ride through the inner workings of friendships, rivalries and survival as these children try to not only figure out how to take down Malice, but how to come out of its seemingly iron-clad grasp.
I feel this title is written with an appropriate target audience of 10+ years old. I set that mark because there are some truly dark elements that will need a more mature mind to not only understand but detach from. Is it vulgar or pornographic with gory images and suffering? No, it most certainly is not. However, children die, and there is a serious debate over the meaning of existence as well as fights for survival. These topics need to have a ready mind to be able to handle them. I recommend this book for those children that like novel challenges and for those that have read and are disinterested with standard literature. If you think about the darkness of this book being comparable to the 5th Harry Potter book level, then you have an accurate depiction of the maturity requirement.
The artwork reminds me of other pen/grayscale works, and I know that artistry was not the point of the book. Sadly, it will be compared to the likes of other greater stylings such as Sin City and Spirit, which are far superior. A comparison to them would not be fair.
This work introduces many subtle innovations to the media of storytelling that I found were awesome attempts at modern revolution. An entire chapter is told in the form of an ongoing IM (instant messenge) conversation, and there was a conversation over email that was printed as you would see on the computer screen. More authors need to include these media along with social networking excerpts in their work so that children can make the connection that the medium of print has changed with their contributions to the internet, and so there can be a healthy and fruitful communication through print and electronic means.
I give this book a solid A- for effort plus storytelling. The structural flow and presentation of more text than graphics really kept me from giving a higher grade; I enjoyed the tale immensely and look forward to the next installment!
Full disclosure: The publisher provided review copies of Malice to The Father Life staff. The opinions presented in this review are solely those of Chris Weber.