This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 23 January 2008.

  • Countdown to Final Crisis #14 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Pete Woods, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Countdown to Mystery #5 of 8, by Steve Gerber, Tom Derenick, Wayne Faucher & Shawn McManus, and Matthew Sturges, Chad Hardin & Dan Green (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #38, by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul & Livesay (DC)
  • The Clockwork Girl #2 of 4, by Kevin Hanna, Sean O’Reilly & Grant Bond (Arcana)
  • Castle Waiting #10, by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)
Castle Waiting #10 Another comic I’ve been reading for a while – since it started, in fact – but haven’t often commented on is Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting. The premise is that the castle is that of Sleeping Beauty, but the characters are various less-well-known figures who flock to the castle after the princess has departed with her prince, and who form a community. The book follows their day-to-day lives – in stark contrast to the drama and adventure of Bill Willingham’s Fables at DC – and sometimes considers what happens to the characters after their “happily ever after”.

Medley is an interesting artist with a terrific facility for drawing characters who look different and who have dynamic facial expressions (see this month’s cover, for instance). Her use of grays is sparse, so the book is truly black-and-white. I sometimes wonder if her art would work better in color, although I think I’ve seen her do a couple of things in color for major publishers and was disappointed.

The weakness in the book is that the writing is very inconsistent. When the series first started, it features short, 2- or 3-issue stories, often focusing on different characters each time, and there was a real sense of time passing, things happening, and people living their lives. Then the series lapsed into a lengthy and – to me – uninteresting tale of a group of bearded nuns, one of whom eventually came to live at the castle. While I understand Medley’s interest in exploring her characters’ backstories and in telling longer stories, this lengthy flashback felt like it brought the series to a screeching halt.

Despite this, I was pretty excited that the whole series would be printed in hardcover a few years back, and then was bitterly disappointed when the actual product had dimensions considerably smaller than a normal comic book, compressing the nice artwork to a tiny size and making the whole package much harder to read and appreciate. I guess I understand that comic-book-size is hard to sell in bookstores, but compressing the art seems like it’s always going to be a bad idea.

Anyway, Medley returned to the series, this time published by Fantagraphics, and it’s again been a lengthy story, although this time set in the present. It concerns a group of (I guess) dwarves who have arrived to help remodel part of the castle, and what everyone finds when they punch through to a hitherto-unknown passageway. There have been a couple of flashbacks about Lady Jain (who arrived at the castle at the beginning of the series, very pregnant, and who I think of as the series’ nominal protagonist) and what appears to be her uneasy relationship with a man she was engaged to, and presumably married (unhappily). But otherwise the story’s been slowly moving forward in the present day. Fortunately, this latest issue feels like a big step forward, as the characters figure out some of the secrets of the passage, while another mystery begins when Jain spots a mysterious figure in the distance. It’s the best issue in quite a while.

The series’ achilles heel is when it spends too much time in flashback, or too much time in slice-of-life mode. Fiction works best when it’s about the characters as they are now, and having things happen to them. And Medley can tell good stories about things happening, and taking unexpected turns. But as the series goes on, she seems to spend more and more time with characters just talking, and talking about their past, and that’s a lot less interesting. She doesn’t need the adventure of Fables to make the book engaging, but the story’s often a lot thinner than it needs to be to keep me engaged.