The fantastic journey of our toy heroes in the realm of The Dark continues in The Stuff of Legend: The Jungle #4, which debuted in comic shops yesterday! This issue wraps up the second volume of the series, as writers Mike Raicht and Brian Smith leave us hanging with anticipation, and artist Charles Paul Wilson III continues to dazzle with his authentic artwork. In this installment, the creators provide many emotional moments, playing to very human themes and the consequences of making mistakes and difficult choices. This is a story of life and the rocky road one embarks upon when setting foot on that inevitable path; the heart must answer for the choices made by a bitter mind.
At the end of last issue, the bottom dropped out as we learned the reason for the mess our main characters find themselves in (the Boogeyman abducting the Boy to The Dark) is due to the misguided actions of our protagonist, Max the teddy bear. Typically looked upon as the leader and anchor of the group of toys, Max has now been reduced to the likeness of a turncoat in the eyes of his companions. Immediately Mike Raicht and Brian Smith begin to strum the chord of humanity, bringing an all to familiar emotion into play: jealousy. Max was jealous of Scout, the Boy’s pet beagle (whom is not a toy, but an actual dog). His continuously brewing envy of the affection Scout received from the Boy led him to broker a deal with the ultimate manipulator, the Boogeyman, ruler of The Dark. In his deviously cunning way, the Boogeyman promised Max he’d get rid of Scout, so long as Max provided entry for the Boogeyman into the real world. As is the way with dark deals, once permitted access, the Boogeyman instead abducted the Boy, (as seen in vol. 1 #1), leaving Max with a feeling of dread guilt that has not been revealed until now.
For the first time in the heroic lives of these all-too-human toys, they find themselves in an abnormal state of doubt; questioning their resolve and the loyalty of their most prominent member, Max. Max’s confessed actions have forced the group to fold from within, putting the quest of rescuing their beloved owner in jeopardy. Despite finding our hero at an all-time low, Raicht and Smith introduce another element into play, redemption. Max can still rescue the Boy, and even save his compatriots from the clutches of the Serpent King and his human-hating Tribe of toy animals. So Max calls out the giant cobra, inciting a fierce battle for the right to be King of the Jungle.
The bear and cobra viciously tear, bite, and claw at each other in a tree compacted with slain people, but despite Max’s resolve in righting his wrong, the guilt still lingers, cheapening his victory over the scaled tyrant. This is an excellent morality moment for parents who have been reading this story to their kids (and they should be). Here, parents could stop and examine with their children what they have read, indulging them to put on their proverbial thinking caps: How would they feel as one of Max’s friends? Would they forgive him and carry on with the mission? Would they rather walk away in disgust, returning to the solace of home?
Surprisingly, of all the members in the toy rescue party, the only one to stick by Max’s side is Scout.
Meanwhile, the Knight, who is General of the Boogeyman’s army, reflects on the man he has become, realizing that his heart is still motivated by good. His story is a tragic one, as he too fell victim to the Boogeyman’s poisoned promises. This was probably my favorite scene of the issue, as it completely resolved this secondary character’s storyline in an appropriately benevolent way. He is confronted by Homer, his #1 man, about his resolve and some shocking violence ensues. This part reminded me of the moment in Return of the Jedi where Darth Vader chose the life of his son over loyalty to his evil master, the Emperor, and the end results are similar here for the absolved.
We are introduced to some new characters in this chapter, who aid the Boy is escaping his prison assigned to him by the Boogeyman. These new faces are toys never opened from their boxes; toys that were never played with by the Boy before being cast away into the Dark in favor of something else. It will be interesting to see how their attitude towards him develops down the line. I wish more time were spent on the Boy’s story, since he is the mcguffin and the focal point of the book. We don’t have much to chew on about his new dark haired friend either, and what his story is.
As if it weren’t obvious, artist Charles Paul Wilson III smokes this issue like a fine maduro cigar, hitting grand slams on every level. I particularly commend him for his ability to convey defining emotion in his characters, most notably in my favorite cast member, the Jester. Below is the opening scene of this book, and you can see in these three panels how much story he tells simply in expression alone.
Wilson is a fine artist, one who clearly takes time with his work and delivers with stunning results. It’s only a matter of time before he breaks into this industry on an even grander level. Imagine him working on a Marvel Knights book, and what he could do there.
I do have one lingering question that’s been bothering me since vol. 1 issue #1 of this series, and a complete answer has yet to be provided: why can’t the toys come to life in front of the Boy? They didn’t when he was abducted by the Boogeyman as Max states “…but with the Boy awake, I couldn’t do anything,” and Max even later laments about the Boy’s affection for Scout in that the dog was a toy that could play back. So what’s stopping Max, and all the other toys for that matter, from doing the same? What’s the reason? Will the secret get out that all toys are alive and that’s against toy “code?” Would they all suddenly perish if spotted alive by human eyes? Something else? I have no clue, but hopefully when this series concludes, we will get an answer.
The mood at the end of this volume is akin to that of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in that things are looking bleak for our heroes, despite achieving a minor victory, and it would seem as if hope has been lost. Even so, while friendships have been broken, new goodly powers have also emerged…but to what end? Our storytellers have a great thing going here, and while this issue may mark the end of The Stuff of Legend volume 2, the story is far from over as it will continue this summer in The Jester’s Tale! I can’t wait for more Stuff.
The Stuff of Legend: The Jungle #4 is out in stores now, so head over to your local comic book store and give it a read. For more on The Stuff of Legend, including creator interviews and reviews of previous issues, click here!