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The Stuff of Legend:
Book 1: The Dark

written by Mike Raicht
and Brian Smith
illustrated by
Charles Paul Wilson III

When backed into a corner, with all the odds against them, these raggedy heroes fight fiercely and pull out unexpected victories. The cause is noble. The cause is just. And these are The Stuff of Legend.

Actually, they might be the stuffing of legend, as the heroes of this book are vintage toys. On the surface, this book by Mike Raicht, Brian Smith and Charles Paul Wilson III seems to borrow from Toy Story and Lions and Tigers and Bears. The toys follow the same rules as Pixar's creations, and their owner's dog is in on the whole thing. They're also sworn to protect their owner from imaginary harm.

Yet here in the late days of World War II (Brooklyn, 1944), the imaginary harm becomes all too real. The Boogie Man has reached out from his nightmare dimension and kidnapped "the boy." For whatever nefarious reasons, this monster in the closet has organized an army of discarded toys to help keep the boy prisoner.

Many of the boy's playthings are too scared to follow. But as a reflection of the boy's courage, his toy soldier - and avatar of his absent father concurrently fighting in Normandy - rallies a few fellows to his cause. A classic Jack-in-the-Box joins Max the teddy bear, a wind-up tin princess, an Indian Maiden and a Percy the Piggy Bank to cross the threshold of the closet door.

Unlike its influences, The Stuff of Legend really isn't a kids' story. The toys transform, but not in a cartoony fashion. Max becomes a real bear, savage and angry, the Jack-in-the-Box becomes a nightmarish Jester wearing a wooden mask and the Indian Princess gains a face that allows her to finally express her distaste at all the prejudices heaped upon her people.

For even the discarded toys are a reflection of the cultures that made them, full of just as much of the ugliness of humanity as the potential. And as the "Battle of Brooklyn Creek" makes clear, that also includes the capacity for carnage and death.

All of is done in a beautiful chiaroscuro by Wilson. From the binding of the book, it's meant to evoke the look of old photography, a journal of an adventure long past. That includes an extra story done especially for this collection of the first two issues, as we get a glimpse into the inner life of the Colonel, the boy's brave tin soldier.

The Stuff of Legend has a surprising amount of depth beneath its high concept. Perhaps the Boogie Man stands for the boy's fear of losing his father in the war, perhaps he really is exactly what he seems - an ageless evil that preys upon children. It is clear that in our imaginations, we imbue toys with aspects of our own personalities when we play with them, but Raicht and Smith also make it clear that these toys are going to become something more.

Clearly Random House thought this effort from Th3rd World Studios is going to be something more, as they picked up the tab for collecting this in graphic novel form. Perhaps you missed it the first time around, but now's your chance to jump on board this intriguing and literate odyssey. This is one that's going to reward reading over and over again.

Derek McCaw

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