By Tommy Kovac and illustrated by Sonny Liew
Disney Press, 2009
$19.99, ages 13 and up, 160 pages
A Wonderland sequel that refers to Alice but doesn't bring her back might seem as curious as a grin without a cat -- especially, when the main character of the book is a lowly housemaid who was mentioned but didn't actually appear in the original Lewis Carroll classic.
But the moment you follow Mary Ann, the White Rabbit's housemaid, into Kovac and Liew's graphic version of Wonderland, you realize how perfectly sensical -- and clever -- it was to re-enter Wonderland without Alice and to choose this particular secondary character to fill her shoes.
As you may remember, in Chapter 4 of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the White Rabbit mistakes Alice for his handmaid Mary Ann and Alice begins acting like her even though she dislikes the idea of being thought of as a mere maid. In light of how offended and confused Alice was then, it's wonderfully ironic that Mary Ann is now the girl who journeys deep underground.
In this followup, Mary Ann -- a compulsive cleaner who sweeps her feather duster, a bird with a feather crest, over everything in her path, including the dirt path itself -- discovers that Alice created a lot animosity when she pretended to be her. Now it's up to Mary Ann to dust her way out of the mess, though Mary Ann is not at all happy about Alice's past impertinence. As you may recall, after Alice drank the potion that caused her to blow up in size, Alice kicked Bill the Lizard out of his master's chimney, then got in a fix with the Queen of Hearts, which in this sequel has made the queen extra feisty.
When we meet Mary Ann, she is running late to the rabbit's house and decides to take a back way (that proves to be a long way) through a hole in a tree. There she find the rabbit anxiously waiting to receive his gloves so he can tend to the queen. But just as the White Rabbit is about to leave for the queen's chambers, the clock in the house (which grins like the Cheshire cat) warns the rabbit that he's been incriminated for suspicious dealings. Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, sentenced to death for being ridiculous, have slandered the White Rabbit in order to spare themselves from being beheaded. They've told the queen that the rabbit secretly met with "the Alice monster" before she wrecked the queen's castle, and now the queen is so livid she wants to decapitate the White Rabbit instead.
Before Mary Ann and the White Rabbit have time to react, the Queen of Hearts shows up at the rabbit's house to have his head lopped off and gets into an altercation with Mary Ann (the queen accidentally soils Mary Ann's perfectly white apron with a cupcake so Mary Ann clocks her over the head with her scepter). Fleeing for their lives, Mary Ann and the White Rabbit head into the thick, dark Tulgey Wood. (Mary Ann assumes the queen now wants her head as well, though the rabbit insists maids are too forgettable for the queen to care about.)
Right away -- as you might expect from the Tulgey Wood, where the Jabberwock is said to dwell -- Mary Ann and the rabbit run into trouble. First the Cheshire cat appears in a tree and dupes the White Rabbit into reciting a curse (the Jabberwocky poem), which brings to life the monster "with eyes of flame." The Jabberwock, a dragon-like fellow with three green eyes and teeth like a piranha's, chases the rabbit into the queen's yard, where he's taken custody by her card soldiers. Then Mary Ann, who gets separated from the rabbit and remains in Tulgey Wood, falls into the Treacle Well and is led underground by ghouls (resembling old maids of the afterlife) to the deposed Queen of Spades.
The Queen of Spades, previously thrown into the well by a pair of hearts, decides to turn Mary Ann into her slave and just as Mary Ann is trying to figure a way out of the well, the White Rabbit falls from above. (The card soldiers were too queasy to behead the rabbit so they disposed of him in the well instead.) Soon, all manner of wondrous things, familiar and not-so-familiar, start to happen. The queen, king, Mary Ann and the rabbit sneeze on shrinking dust and become small enough to ride a pipe-puffing butterfly (the transformed Caterpillar character) out of the well. Once above-ground they return to normal size and crash land on the Mad Hatter's tea table. But now that the Queen of Spades is out of the well, will the two queens pull each other's hair out? And what's this talk of a Chaos Queen? A shift in power is afoot in Wonderland, and it'll take a pair of giant scissors to set things right.
It's not hard to sing Wonderland's praises. Even before it was published, all six chapters were nominated for the Eisner Award after being published as single-issue comics by SLG Publishing. This is a wonderfully wacky book and even if you don't read graphic novels, you'll find the humor irresistible and the richly colored cartoon panels (so full of physical humor you almost think the characters move on the page) too spectacular to miss.
Psst. Parents might want to sneak a read before passing this one along.