July 18, 2017

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #36 (The Power of the Dark Crystal by Simon Spurrier, Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews)


See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as these, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

When existing franchises spin-off into other media, it’s often very difficult to translate the nuance that made the source material have such sustainability. Couple that with new creators at the helm and it becomes a balancing act between maintaining the spirit of the original without becoming an unrelenting slave to it.

The Dark Crystal was a fantasy movie that was released in 1982 - written and directed by the one and only Jim Henson - to moderate success. However, in the years since, it has attained something of a cult status, with the novelisation providing an even greater lore that whet the audiences appetites for more. The planned sequel, The Power of the Dark Crystal, meandered in production limbo for upwards of twelve years. With the original movie's 25th anniversary landing this year,  Archaia took the script and.gave the fans everything that they could have possibly dreamed of.


Coming into this franchise as a complete newbie, I was astounded at how resolutely this book stands alone. The history of the world remains critical, but Spurrier immediately lets readers know that there’s still so much more to unfold in this world; it manages to retain the lore that will please long-term fans while also providing a very clear path in for new readers.

Spurrier is a writer that is generally known for his freneticism. Often, that applies to the speech patterns of characters like Doctor Nemesis, but that can also apply to the barrelling nature of his plots. What makes The Power of the Dark Crystal stand apart from his existing body of work is the sudden replacement of that quick-witted patter with a very different, but still engrossing, kind of rhythm.

Spurrier’s repetition of certain phrases in the caption boxes that frame the issue push the tone of its narrative into a very specific direction. It creates the impression that this is a story being read from a musty tome, plucked from the highest shelf by some robed tutor to a gathered group of children. Small storytelling decisions lead to a greater narrative and this is a comic that absolutely understands that.

While this is a comic that is entrenched in the lore of its predecessor, the team add to the world, taking the mysterious girl made of fire from the sequel's concept art and making this universe feel expansive and well-worn. The race of fire-folk are stunning, thanks to the splendid art from Kelly and Nichole Matthews. From the first appearance of the ambassador, whenever the creatures are on panel they consume it; the dynamism of the flame jumps from panel to panel, guiding the eye and making the page feel truly alive.

This reaches its peak in the one-page origin story of this race that is absolutely consumed by an intensity of colour. The oranges, reds and whites blend together to create the sense of an inferno, but the retention of the earthy browns remind us that within all of this supposedly destructive flame, there is the story of a dying race desperately struggling to survive.

However, while there is a tragic undercurrent driving the main plot forwards, there are moments of genuine amusement that keep the tone from becoming overbearing. The ambassador of the Fire Kingdom has a weakness that no-one could have anticipated: wood. This discovery pushes the narrative forwards while also providing moments of levity in what could otherwise be a weighty story.

One of the signs of a good artist is knowing where to position the so-called “panel camera”. The art team of Matthews and Matthews begin the story with an expansive shot of the palace, providing a global context, before zooming in for an intimate view of the effects that the events of this world have on the little people. It’s a combination that works extraordinarily well at setting up both the world and the human cost of this civilisation.

This is a creative team in perfect synchronisation, weaving a story that manages to feel grandiose in its setting and style of storytelling, while not losing sight of the intimacy and innocence that makes worlds like these pop. They’ve taken an existing story and truly made it their own. Existing fans of the franchise will get the sequel that they always dreamed of, but new converts like myself have the chance to ignite their passion.

Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mcdickson101@gmail.com or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.