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Trouble with Comics, Guest Reviewer Month - Johanna Draper-Carlson on Rapunzel's Revenge

Guest Reviewer Month - Johanna Draper-Carlson on Rapunzel’s Revenge

When I started writing about comics about a decade ago, Johanna was already an established voice, often of reason and always of authority. I don’t think our tastes overlap much, but I’ve always respected what she had to say, and those who don’t do so at their peril. Because aside from the absolute clarity and efficiency of her style, one of my favorite things about her is the occasional blast of withering scorn she unleashes, like a hurricane tearing up an Iowa cornfield. She always plays fair, though. Fortunately for the authors and publisher here, they were met with approval.

—Christopher Allen

Rapunzel’s Revenge
written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
illustrated by Nathan Hale (no relation)
Bloomsbury, $18.99

This twisted take on the fairy tale of Rapunzel sparkles with life, intelligence, wit, adventure, and just plain fun.

For the first time, the story of a girl locked in a tower by an evil stepmother and her excessively long hair makes a certain amount of sense. The Hales give Rapunzel character and motivation—she’s active, making choices, instead of someone bad things are done to. Oh, there’s plenty of that, too, but she works to overcome her circumstances instead of passively waiting for a prince to wander by.

Rapunzel is a young girl who lives in a beautiful villa with everything she could want except freedom. The woman who says she’s her mother has the power to make things grow, an ability she uses to keep those around her under her control. On her twelfth birthday, Rapunzel learns the truth about her life, and as a result, the evil woman locks her away in the hollowed-out top of a tree.

What’s freshest about this story is how Rapunzel gets away. She grows amazingly long braids, which four years later, she uses as rope to lasso a nearby tree and swing to safety…ungracefully, for that touch of humor and realism. The cartooning is outstanding. It’s clear and easy to read, helpful for those new to graphic novels, but full of attitude and expression and movement. That suits the Western feel into which the story transitions.

Rapunzel stumbles into a nearby town, where she learns to work for what she needs and meets Jack, a con man and thief who introduces her to life on the run. They try to rescue a kidnapped little girl, only to discover that the world is full of double-crosses and the selfish, whether they’re officially outlaws or not. There’s a quest voyage and opportunities to help folk they meet along the way, defeating various monsters and threats.

The story is lengthy and rewarding. The book is 144 pages, but with a higher-than-average number of panels per page, at 8 to 14, the story involves you for a long time. That’s a great way to feel like you’re really visiting Rapunzel’s world. The chapters, by contrast, open with lovely full-page illustrations setting the stage for the action to come.

If I’d managed to read this when it came out in 2008, it would have easily been one of my top ten books of that year. It’s hilarious, inspiring, and well worth reading and re-reading.

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Johanna Draper-Carlson reviews comics, graphic novels, manga and related subjects at Comics Worth Reading.

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