Thursday, January 28, 2016

One Bad Rabbit, Furnished in Relatively Early Gaiman

Free Country: A Tale of the Children's Crusade: written by Neil Gaiman, Toby Litt, Jamie Delano, Alisa Kwitney, and Rachel Pollack; illustrated by Chris Bachalo, Peter Snejberg, Peter Gross, Mike Barreiro, Al Davison, and others (1993-94/2015/Collected 2015): DC's adult-oriented fantasy comics line Vertigo tried its first line-wide crossover in the early 1990's. As Neil Gaiman notes in his introduction to this volume, no one really knew how to do such a thing. The result was a special event with a beginning and an end but a confusing and disjointed middle.

In this volume, Gaiman and company work to give Free Country: A Tale of the Children's Crusade a workable middle and a partially rewritten end so that everything holds together. I think they succeed, thus giving a 'lost' Gaiman comics story a new life in a collected edition.

The original structure of Free Country: A Tale of the Children's Crusade saw beginning and ending chapters published in two extra-length Free Country comic books, while the middle of the story appeared in several of Vertigo's ongoing comics that included Animal Man, Swamp Thing, and Black Orchid. Gaiman's Dead Boy Detectives (boy ghosts who elected not to go to the afterlife), who first appeared in Gaiman's A Season of Mists story arc in The Sandman, drive the plot as they accept a job to find a young girl's missing brother. He went missing along with everyone else in his English village. Why? Well, therein lies the story.

And really, what an enjoyably dense and epic story it is. Writers Neil Gaiman, Toby Litt, Jamie Delano, Alisa Kwitney, and Rachel Pollack mesh together quite wonderfully -- their individual voices remain distinctive without being jarringly discordant. 

The art duties are primarily handled by pencillers Chris Bachalo, Peter Snejberg, and Peter Gross. They work well together, as all are able cartoonists who can lightly depict the realistic while also doing fine work with the more fantastical artistic elements. And all of them do one sinister talking rabbit!

The story weaves together the history of the real Children's Crusade with mythology, folklore, and the particular fictional mythologies of the various comics involved in the crossover. The Dead Boy Detectives, on what I believe is their first real case, are a humourous, sympathetic pair. The looming menace to all the Earth's children gives a horrific tone to some of the comic, as does the truly disturbing section devoted to that real Children's Crusade. It's a fine thing that Free Country: A Tale of the Children's Crusade has been restored and refurbished for contemporary consumption. Highly recommended.

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