Written by Ian Edginton
Art by D’Israeli
120 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse
About a year and a half ago, Dark Horse published Ian Edginton and D’Israeli’s Scarlet Traces, a visually stunning collaboration about the invasion of England by aliens. Now one of their earlier collaborations is back in print, Kingdom of the Wicked. Here, the invasion is more sinister, as not England being invaded… but a writer’s childhood dream world.
When Christopher Grahame was very young, he was sick for a time, and to pass the time invented the world of Castrovalva, where fuzzy bears and other anthropomorphic animals lived and played with Christopher and each other. Now as an adult, Grahame is a best-selling children’s author, and Castrovalva is long forgotten. When a sudden black-out plunges Grahame back into Castrovalva, the childhood dream land is now a nightmare, with trench warfare and barbed wire fences being just the tip of the iceberg for the horrible things inflicted on the world. But who or what could be doing this to a place that only exists in Grahame’s mind?
Edginton’s writing for Kingdom of the Wicked is able to early on hit all the right notes; the introduction of Grahame as the author tired of his own success, and the return to the world of Castrovalva being nothing short of a nightmare. Edginton’s able to make Kingdom of the Wicked a sufficiently creepy world even as he lets you catch glimpses of the wondrous place it must be. In many ways, this is how Kingdom of the Wicked‘s early chapters are such a success; the juxtaposition of teddy bears and World War I turns something that is right into something so very wrong, even as they’re talking about the invasion coming from the Land Under The Bed. These images are so startling that when the big revelation as to who is leading the enemy forces finally does show up, it’s disappointing and a little predictable. The big conclusion just doesn’t have the impact the way the first half of the book does, perhaps because it’s left the focus of children’s-dream-gone-wrong and turned into a much more typical and normal confrontation.
When I first read Kingdom of the Wicked, it was a black and white book, so it’s interesting to see how D’Israeli has come back through and colored the series. It’s an interesting new look for the series, letting D’Israeli bring the real world into focus through bright eye-catching colors, while the war-torn Castrovalva is almost monochromatic in its muted hues and shades. You can almost feel the mud in the way that D’Israeli brings the trench warfare sequence to life, and D’Israeli’s cartoonish art style is able to show both whimsy and terror equally well in Kingdom of the Wicked. When Grahame finally confronts the enemy commander in the conclusion of the book, the dark red glow that lights the scenes is nothing short of creepy, and helps carry those final scenes past the slight predictability of its writing. With slick paper and high production values, Kingdom of the Wicked is one handsome looking book.
While the second half might not be as strong as the first half, Kingdom of the Wicked is still well worth buying. There’s a reason why this series has been so infamous since Caliber Comics first published it in the mid-80s, and the book hasn’t aged much at all. (There’s a new 8-page prelude included by Edginton and D’Israeli, and it’s nice to see that the two haven’t lost it at all.) For the dreamer in every one of us, this book is startling and scary in just the right way. By the time it’s over, you’ll find yourself wanting to read stories about Castrovalva before the war, proving once and for all that this book will capture your imagination. Kudos for its return to print.