Lewis Carroll's Alice Gets Another New Makeover
Lewis Carroll’s 1865 nonsense book Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and its 1871 follow-up, Through the Looking Glass, are amongst the most widely-read and referenced pieces of literature in history, behind only Shakespeare and the Bible. In nearly 150 years since their initial publication, the themes of Carroll’s work have resonated in as many disparate media as you can name. Disney made a feature film of it in 1951; Tom Waits composed music for a theatrical work based on it; there’s been a Kabuki theatre version and an opera. There’s even a medical syndrome that bears her name. Some draw parallels between Alice and The Matrix, while others link it to Pink Floyd — the Disney film apparently syncs as nicely with The Wall as Wizard of Oz does with Dark Side of the Moon.
The richness of its themes and imagery have allowed for near endless exploration, reinterpretation and revision, including in comic books; writers Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier are joining the ranks (in an unusual way) with Hatter M. In fact, it’s an inter-chapter between a trilogy of novels about Wonderland; Hatter M both provides a bridge between those novels, and works as a stand-alone comic mini-series.
Beddor and Cavalier reinvent Carroll’s Mad Hatter as Hatter Madigan, a royal bodyguard tasked with protecting the heir to the throne of Wonderland, Princess Alyss. After the reigning Queen of Wonderland meets an untimely end at the hands of Alyss’s wicked Aunt Redd (Carroll’s sinister Red Queen), Alyss is exiled from her homeland with only Madigan for protection. They travel through a portal that is supposed to lead them to safety, but get separated; thus begins Hatter M’s 13-year search that takes him all over the world.
In some ways, the Beddor and Cavalier version bears only a passing resemblance to the world of Lewis Carroll. In addition to their punning take on the title character, they draw from a variety of different literary and pop culture influences, including Shakespearean dramatic elements for the story arc. (The Queen betrayed by her sister to take power? Very Hamlet.) Hatter M is in some ways an interpretation of many different Alices that have entered the pop landscape in a century and a half, building as much on others’ interpretations as from Carroll’s original. The violence of the modern world is reflected in Hatter Madigan’s transformation from the Mad Hatter’s psychedelic purveyor of visions and misinformation to a (literally) loaded gun of protection. At other times, very much in line with Carroll, it’s merely clever wordplay that captures the imagination. (The White Rabbit appears as albino Bibwit Harte, a clever anagram, who is Alyss’s tutor.)
But Madigan’s story doesn’t end with the wrap-up of the miniseries. Although a self-contained story, the comic is actually a graphic interlude in a trilogy of novels penned by Beddor about Wonderland. Characters introduced in the comic make appearances later in the novel. It’s an elaborate and ambitious cross-pollinating literary project that, on the surface, may seem like a superficial attempt to drive wordy types to the comic store and get the scribbles and bubbles set to read without pictures. In practice, it’s a fascinating exploration of the strengths of both media, particularly because the lush illustrations of Hatter M, by Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night). Painterly, minimal backgrounds in muted colours highlight foreground action that’s deceptively simple yet quite beautiful. Templesmith harnesses both the horrific and comic elements of the story in ways that further expand on the new interpretation being presented.
Hatter M is just one of the many literary and pop culture-oriented works inspired by Alice. In addition to another new comic, Wonderland (see sidebar), comics legend Alan Moore recently published his long-awaited Lost Girls, an erotic exploration of the lives of three fictional women: Peter Pan’s Wendy, Oz’s Dorothy and beloved Alice, who continues to take new and fascinating trips down that rabbit hole.
Wonderland's Other Human Girl
Alice wasn’t the only human girl residing in Wonderland. According to the creative team of writer Tommy Kovac and artist Sonny Liew, there was a shy, timid human maid named Mary Ann who also resided in Wonderland, but was mysteriously absent during Alice’s visit.
Picking up where Disney’s 1951 feature film left off, the comic, published by Slave Labor Graphics and bearing the Disney stamp, the comic follows Mary Ann on her way to see the White Rabbit. She appears to be a normal human girl albeit with a slightly obsessive-compulsive tendency to cleanliness in the extreme, inviting ridicule from her companion, Feather. The troublemaking Cheshire Cat exploits this trait of Mary Ann’s when the Red Queen arrives at the White Rabbit’s house to charge him with treason. During a scuffle, the Queen knocks a tart onto Mary Ann’s clean apron, sending her into a rage. The Cat hands her a strange looking sceptre, which Mary Ann uses to knock the Queen out, and the chase is on.
A strong start to a story that truly has no end, Wonderland is written with the readers’ familiarity with the tale in mind. Rather than a reinterpretation a la Hatter M, Wonderland serves as an unwritten sequel to Lewis Carroll’s original. It’s a smart move, since they seem to have a lot of fresh ideas that mesh perfectly within the framework. With a strong first issue, one can only guess whether or not the series will continue to stay captivating. The artistry of Sonny Liew is so expressive that there almost is no need for words. Although the idea has been done before, this version is one of the better ones.
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