Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Review Copy Reviews

Larry sent me two comic books to read and enjoy. The first one I read was Rock Bottom, which I enjoyed. The second one I didn't want to read, for reasons which I'll try to make clear in my review.

Seven Sons by Alexander Grecian and Riley Rossmo: I read the Bishop/Wiese version of this story as a child. That version was written and drawn in 1938, and lacked some cultural sensitivity. I didn't know that as a kid, and as an adult I had fond memories of the book until my boss ordered some copies of it, thinking she was getting an updated version. After looking through it, she eventually decided that she couldn't shelve it despite its history. The stereotypes were too much for her, and she wanted to run a welcoming store.

I disagreed, since I felt that the whole point of the story was that the boys looked identical, but I accepted reality. I should've taken the opportunity to buy myself a copy of the book, but felt oddly bitter about it and disturbed that I couldn't see the levels of racism that other employees could see. I was afraid that my sensitivity was being clouded by pleasant memories of reading the book as a child.

Flash forward a few years to last week, when I opened the unexpected package from Larry and found this book in it. Before I even opened it my mind was writing incredibly negative reviews. I was dead certain I would hate the book. I mean, mixing my pleasant memories with the recent bitterness, and adding a retelling of the tale... not at all promising.

If I hadn't felt obligated to Lar's kindness in sending this to me to at least attempt to read it, I would not have tried. I freely admit that this is my own failing, and baggage that I don't think most people will take into this book. But I do want to make this absolutely clear: I was not inclined to give this book a chance. I started out disliking it and didn't expect that to change at all.

Seven Sons
I can't say I was won over immediately, but I think I was caught when the old man asks the vandalist girl if she wants to hear the true story, and offers her tea. Everyone loves a good tale, and one that claims to be true is often better. This sets the tale in a specific time and place, and it didn't take me long to really begin to enjoy it, even while some part of my backbrain was yelling "no, no, you don't want to like this! Stop it!"

Ok. So I enjoyed it. I liked it a lot. It was far from perfect, but it so exceeded my expectations that I was practically blown away by it. The art is a tad too sketchy for my tastes, but manages to be detailed nonetheless. And the twists of the story (which I'm not going to spill here) added so much to the tale that it felt like a completely different story in some ways, while owing a lot to the older versions.

But the absolute BEST thing about this version is the notes in the back. Rivaling the story itself for my attention, the notes explain why Grecian and Rossmo decided to set the story where they did despite the perils involved, and the history of the tale, particularly in print. The notes ended up resolving a lot of the doubts I had about enjoying the tale as a child, and put the whole matter to rest in my mind.

So, my verdict? It was satisfying and surprisingly good. HIGHLY recommended. Especially if you enjoyed the tale in another version as a child.

Note: For some insight into how divided people are about the Bishop/Wiese version of the story, check out the comments on its Amazon.com page.