My first experience with The Weirding Willows was in Titan Comics’ A1 anthology series. The series took chapters of The Weirding Willows and other Atomeka titles and delivered them monthly. Sadly The Weirding Willows wasn’t my favorite or even the strongest of the bunch. It’s not that the idea is bad or even that the execution is bad, but it’s just something that’s been done over and over in comics, novels, TV and movies. Now you may be wondering, “what’s been done?” Well it’s the concept of combining fictional worlds from literature and making a shared universe. It’s not quite Fables or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but more of a darker and bolder Once Upon A Time classic literature edition. We see the worlds of Frankenstein, The Jungle Book, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Alice in Wonderland, Oz and more, oh so many more.
On paper it works. Hell even talking about it sounds kinda cool and it is pretty cool. The idea is that Dr. Moreau is Alice’s father and he’s experimenting on animals while she’s able to talk to them. There are strange boundaries though in which if the animals cross they lose their ability to talk. The Wicked Witch commissions Moreau to make flying monkeys and two animals from the Jungle Book have been captured. In the animal’s neck of the woods Frankenstein is looking for his dinosaur friend and there’s still like four or five other story lines going on.
And that’s the failure of the story. There’s a lot going on, but nothing is given enough time to fully develop and the characters never get to the point in which you want to care about them. It’s just Alice, it’s just Mowgli and so on. For the most part they all kind of have two voices. Good guy or bad guy. That’s really where the line is drawn and it’s strange since there should be a lot more grey areas; after all these are characters from literature with deep stories, but here that’s a bit lacking.
What isn’t lacking is the artwork. The artwork manages to blend these different worlds together in a way the narrative really can’t. In fact without the artwork this story wouldn’t succeed because it would be hollow versions of the characters. With the art though there’s a liveliness to the story and world. With two artists working on the series, Barnaby Bagenda and Sami Basri, it also gives the book a unique look in that there’s a bit of variety for these fantasy worlds and characters. There is an overall look and design to the series, but it has pockets of personality.
Overall The Weirding Willows is an entertaining and enjoyable read. It may not be wholly original, but it still has plenty to offer in terms of ideas and execution. It’s just something that may be read in smaller chunks like it was originally presented in A1 rather than blazing through the hardcover from beginning to end. If there ever is a second volume I would probably check it out, but I don’t know if I would rush to it right away.