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‘The Stardust Kid’ (review)

Written by J. M. DeMatteis
Art/Cover by Mike Ploog
New Edition Published by Archaia
ISBN-13: 978-1684150441
Released 12/20/17 / $$24.99

 

The Stardust Kid is the latest collaboration from the team of J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog, the team that created the impressive and unique Abadazad series of semi-graphic novels more than a decade ago.  Like those books, which both my then-young son and I enjoyed very much, there is a lovely, magical warmth to The Stardust Kid.

Having written some classic comic book stories in the past (“Kraven’s Last Hunt,” anyone?), DeMatteis, first and foremost, has always been a storyteller to be reckoned with and he’s clearly anxious to tell this one.

He tells you so in his absolutely delightful introduction which tells a story unto itself!  The story behind the story, if you will.

And it, too, has its surprisingly magic moments!

Our main character is Cody and Cody is your typical teenage boy hanging around with a friend his mother doesn’t like, a stereotype found in so many stories. What makes Cody different here is that his friend, Paul, happens to be, in reality, “a three-dimensional mirage—woven out of stray dreams and stardust.”

Although normally looking like another human boy, when they’re alone, Paul can be himself and himself might be a giant, talking caterpillar, a cloud, a dog or anything else.

Paul’s there to help protect Cody from monsters—monsters like puberty as well as the creeping shadows in the park. Puberty is at the heart of this story in many ways, in fact, such as when Cody gets encased inside a very phallic looking mushroom and emerges as the Pan-like title character. As such he has to protect his friend Alana along with her brother and his own little sister. Oh, and the bunch of them have to save the world!

Mike Ploog seemed to come to comic books out of nowhere with Marvel’s Werewolf by Night more than four decades ago now, and has career in comics has been sporadic. From his early Eisner-inspired beginnings, though, it’s safe to say that Ploog has long since progressed to become a master illustrator himself. More than just his artwork, though, his storytelling skills are equal to or perhaps now better than—dare I say it? —those of Eisner himself!

And they’re all on display here. One can easily keep up with the basic story even if all the text is ignored. But, please, don’t ignore it. DeMatteis comes from the school of comics writing that goes beyond the basics. In the tradition of Steve Gerber and Alan Moore, his prose and his dialogue are a joy to actually read, adding atmosphere and nuance to Ploog’s images so that the two symbiotically work together to form just plain good comics. Each creator is equally important.

Also very important here is the coloring, credited to Sumi Pak and Nick Bell. The color choices for Ploog’s art—reproduced from pencil work throughout—are about as perfect as possible. The colors are muted for rain-drenched streets, bright and shiny for the phantasmagoric scenes, realistic for the household bits, and gloomy without being dull for the darker parts.

In fact, the only real problem I have with the entire book is the lettering, and that’s mainly because the font chosen for the narrative captions is difficult to decipher at times (although I did also spot a couple of typos). And the narrative captions need to be readable for they represent a secret character that the reader only discovers at the very end. Plus, they’re amusing as all get out!

The back of the book gives you more than enough behind the scenes info to keep you revisiting scenes long after you’ve finished the story. The Stardust Kid is a fine modern fairy tale, an engrossing story with some great recognizable human characters and some original anthropomorphic creatures. There are surprises throughout and, as with all good fairy tales, a happy ending.

Like the Harry Potter books, The Stardust Kid deserves to be read and re-read by readers of all ages from now on. A beautiful modern classic.

Booksteve—as if you couldn’t guess—recommends!

 

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