Pop Culture Gadabout
Thursday, April 13, 2006
      ( 4/13/2006 02:38:00 PM ) Bill S.  

THE LEAGUE OF ORDINARY GENTLEMEN – Mister Belated picked up a copy of the first issue of Ted Naifeh's Courtney Crumrin Tales (Oni), released as a prestige edition last summer but only just recently added to the Gadabout Library. Naifeh's clean b-&-w art and neo-Edwardian obsessions remain appealing, though the shift in perspective from hard-eyed child Courtney to feisty-but-proper young Englishwoman Alice Crisp made me more aware of aspects of Naifeh's renderings that I'd let slide before (his three-fingered claw hands, f'rinstance). The first in a series of Youth-Aged spin-off stories, "A Portrait of The Artist as A Young Warlock" follows Courtney's sorcerer Uncle Aloysius as a less reclusive youth living in a Post-War London (the exact time is unclear, though one character makes an allusion to Lon Chaney's 1941 Wolf Man). Working undercover in the office of a group devoted to ferreting out nefarious warlocks, Aloysius is recruited to follow stiff-upper-lipper Godfrey "Goose" Daniels into the lair of Dr. Elkan Gunzt, who's been using his powers to influence local politics.

Aloysius and Goose storm Gunzt's mansion – the curious Alice tagging along, of course – and the latter half of the book is devoted to the threesome's attempts at getting into the magically protected building. You can see Naifeh really enjoying himself in these pages, pulling from classic fairy tale art and Ray Harryhausen films in equal measure. He gets some decent comic mileage contrasting the befuddled man-of-action Goose's response to the escalating perils placed before him and Aloysius' annoyance at the ostentatious nature of Gunzt's magic and lifestyle. ("Excess is so unbecoming in a warlock!") There are hints of the more aloof figure Aloysius will become by the time his niece comes to live with him, but there's an approachable side to his younger self, too.

Unlike the Courtney Crumrin stories, which contain a kid's lit subtext of 'tween-age alienation, "Portrait" is a bit more rousing in tone, more Brit pulp than E. Nesbit. (Though I haven't read it yet, I suspect that Naifeh also brings this coloration to his current Polly & the Pirates series.) I'm betting most fans of Naifeh's work weren't put off by this book's extra dose of boyish energy, however. It is, after all, the story of a warlock-as-a-young-man . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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