And about time too! When the Warriors novels started coming out in graphic novel forms, I didn’t think much of it. Author Erin Hunter has always written books that seem similar to the "Redwall" titles, but with a narrower focus. Then Mouse Guard was published earlier in 2007 and I thought it a lovely work, if less complex and multi-faceted than "Redwall" too. About the time "Mice Templar" hit the shelves, though, I started to get angry. What. The. Heck? First of all, I’m sure there are some nice sociological theories you could put into play regarding the state of the United States today and our odd fixation on mice going to war, but above and beyond all that, where in the world was the Redwall graphic novel? I mean, Brian Jacques essentially took that old "The Wind in the Willows" animals-wearing-clothes idea, gave it some armor, and defined the very idea of contemporary children’s books where animals war against one another. I’m sure that you could find others, but Jacques was the fellow that made animals in armies profitable. Finally, at long last, we’ve a graphic novelization of the very first "Redwall" book. Adapted by Stuart Moore and illustrated by Bret Blevins, the book is a faithful retelling of the original text, offering some advantages and disadvantages in its new format.
Once there may have been a need for warrior mice to guard Redwall Abbey, but those days have long since passed. Now the most that young Matthias can hope for is to someday become an abbot himself. As they say, the days of the warrior are past. Or rather, they would be if Cluny the Scourge and his crew of blood-thirsty rats weren’t travelling straight for the Abbey with murder on their minds. Now the good animals must band together to fight this terrible invader. For Matthias, that means going on a quest of his own to recover and use the word of the legendary Martin the Warrior. In his own small way, Matthias is the only hope for a land now torn asunder by war.
I had forgotten the sheer amount of story Jacques worked into the first book in the "Redwall" series, something this book was quick to remind me of. I’ll admit right now that I haven’t reread it since I picked up this new version, but as far as my foggy memory serves this seems to be the whole kit and caboodle (at least in terms of big scenes). Readers unfamiliar with the original book but who love graphic novels may even find themselves surprised at the sheer number of women warriors that crop up. One of the things I’ve always loved about Jacques and his characters is that he isn’t afraid to create strong women. Over and over again the important people in this book surprise the reader by turning out to be female. Illustratior Blevins, to his credit, doesn’t go the standard animation route of just slapping eyelashes on anything faintly feminine either, and the result is a more interesting narrative in terms of character and expectations.
In the essence of space, much has been lost in terms of descriptions and smells. Jacques ranks right up there with Laura Ingalls Wilder and Grace Lin when it comes to writing about the true glories of delicious abundant food. Tasty morsels get short shrift in Moore’s version though, and that’s a true pity. I’m sure that with the right text, illustrator Bret Blevins could whip up delicious baked goods and succulent soups if the need arose. At 148 pages this work is faithful, but I can’t help but imagine what would have happened if Philomel had gone all the way and produced a 200+ lush full-color edition with time spent on character and scope. Nothing against the black and white pages, mind you. In this age of flashy computer-drawn hues and tones it was kind of a relief to see the events of this story playing out in good old-fashioned gritty grays and blacks. Still, you get the sense that the 148-page limit should have been pushed a little farther. As I am given to understand it, this adaptation was originally published overseas, so there was little the American publisher Philomel could do once they brought it over. Perhaps if it is successful they’ll consider future installments at a more extensive length.
Illustrator Bret Blevins is primarily known for his work with big comic book powerhouses like Marvel and DC Comics, but his style takes many of its cues from real life. For this particular book he would have had to create a rat worthy of Cluny’s grotesque evil. Certainly Blevins’ work with musculature and action serves him particularly well in the massive battle and action sequences. At the same time, the good guys in this book had to look at least a little tough. It’s all well and good to read a story about adorable woodland creatures going to war, but if your characters are too adorable then there isn’t any life in them. Blevins does a good job at balancing this all out. So much so, in fact, that I was a little surprised that characters like Silent Sam, the silent baby squirrel, weren’t even more adorable. I appreciated the grittiness of the book as well. There really isn’t a lot of blood (the death of Asmodeus being an unavoidable exception) but there is a plenty of grit, claws, teeth, and spittle. Blevins never forgets that these are animals, not little people in animal clothing, and the result is a visually stimulating series of panels and full-page spreads.
(CONTINUED IN PART TWO)