Jan 20, 2011

Comics Cube! Reviews: LEGEND: THE LABORS OF HERACLES

The good folks at Campfire Graphic Novels sent me a copy of Ryan Foley's LEGEND: THE LABORS OF HERACLES, an adaptation of the 12 labors of Heracles (also known as Hercules) intended for children. As I did with their adaptation of MOBY DICK, I had the Resident Kid read it, then I reviewed it (see here).


LEGEND is written by Ryan Foley and drawn by Sankha Banerjee. In 80 pages, they attempt to condense and tell (summarize is more like it) the 12 labors of Heracles for a young audience. That's a daunting task, and I have to say that they were able to do it very well.

To clarify, I'm not an expert on Heracles' 12 labors. I just know there were 12 labors, and that one of them involves cleaning stables. So basically, this was also a primer for people like me. LEGEND doesn't pretend to be a comprehensive adaptation; it's a summary intended to get people to read the source material. And it works, because there's just enough there to tell a complete story, and just enough there to let you know it's part of a larger mythology that makes you curious.

The story has a framing sequence that involves a young Greek student named Prenditus and his teacher, the lady Demiartes. Demiartes explains the story of Heracles' 12 labors to Prenditus, and in doing so, Foley bypasses the potential problem of having various myths overlapping with each other, and actually uses it to his advantage. For example, Minos of Crete was sent a bull by Poseidon to sacrifice. When the bull wasn't sacrificed, it tore up Crete and violated Minos' wife, who then gave birth to the Minotaur of the Labyrinth — which gives way to a whole other myth about the Minotaur and Theseus, who shows up later on in the story. By using the framing sequence of a kid asking his teacher about the interconnectedness of these legends, Foley is able to incite curiosity in a reader, as it certainly did for me, even moreso than it did for my Resident Kid, who thought it was interesting, but didn't think that it would lead to another story. So there's a tip for campfire — perhaps a feature on these references at the end would work in their favor. (They actually have one, but it's all the way in the back of the book behind even their "About Us" section that I now think upon further reflection that the kid missed it totally.)  If there are other Campfire books meant to tie into LEGEND, it would be good to advertise it immediately following the story. 

The art by Sankha Banerjee is solid and clear, although there are some instances of anatomical impossibilities, which wouldn't stick out so much in a cartoony style, but does like a sore thumb in a realistic style. There is a clear 90s influence in the artwork, with exaggerated muscles yet iconic faces. The coloring is also top-notch and goes a long way into setting the mood and tone of the book.

There is one major drawback to this book, and that's the lettering. For one thing, there is the fact that for some reason, they decided to use Comic Sans, quite probably the most hated font in the history of design and something that Eisner-award-winning letterer Todd Klein defines as "nothing more than a way to label yourself clueless about comics, fonts, and good design." For another thing, the narration boxes for Demiartes are colored in a fading gradient of white to light purple, while those of Prenditus are colored in a fading gradient of white to light blue, making it really difficult to tell when a speaker is changing right away. It stops being intuitive and takes you out of the story. Finally, there's the fact that the sound effects aren't rendered properly to capture timbre and nuance; rather, they're mostly just done in hollow letters and seem really rushed. They end up looking like old 1960s sound effects from the Batman TV show with Adam West, which is not appropriate to this story. (When I read "CRASH!", I should feel a crash. This book doesn't do that.) All that aside, the kid didn't have any problems with the lettering, so it's possible I'm just being snooty. But Campfire should take note of this, because it really brings their product down.

Lettering issues aside, I think Foley really does a good job in summarizing the story of Heracles' 12 labors, making Heracles a sympathetic character the younger readers can truly identify with. It gives them a hero and a good story about redemption, and just for that, I'll say that if you have a kid you want to entertain with incredible stories and a sense of wonder, LEGEND: THE LABORS OF HERACLES is recommended by the Comics Cube!

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