In the publication history of Wonderland there have been more or less only two general outlooks for the series. The first dealt with the Liddle family, and specifically Calie, trying to battle against the maddening influence of the horror dimension. This led her into conflict with the various rulers of Wonderland – the Jabberwocky, the Queen of Hearts, the Queen of Spades – each of whom she destroyed, until she eventually became the White Queen of Wonderland, which changed the outlook for the first time in her stories. In these stories she was recast as a force trying to clean up Wonderland from the myriad of insanities which plague it. For her character, this has been a natural evolution, and a clever one under the hand of Erica J. Heflin, but there was a difference between her new and the old. While she still dealt with problems on Earth from time to time, her main focus became Wonderland, and the series changed from that of a psychological horror, to something more like a fantastical one.
Issue #39 of this series represents the first time that the two different outlooks are presented in the same issue. The story is told in a bit of a non sequitur to what has been playing out in recent issues, though this is also briefly touched upon. Instead a mysterious person is stalking Calie, someone from both her past and her mother’s. This touches on the earliest moments in this series and touches more so on the madness that used to play out in these stories. It is revealed that this man used to be the butcher in the neighborhood where the Liddles lived, although he harbored a secret love for Alice which led him to the dark dimension.
While there is a decent setup for this new nemesis in Calie’s life, his introduction is also somewhat of an x factor. He is built up well here, but his place in the overall story is a mystery as there is essentially no context for his appearance. The same general level of performance is here for the series as Heflin manages another engaging story, but it remains to be seen exactly how this fits into the bigger picture, as it is still somewhat undefined. At the very least it proves that she has an understanding of what made the series so popular to begin with and can channel that same concept into her own version of the series. The only issue is that it is somewhat non sequitur, it will likely be incorporated into the story line in a meaningful way in the coming issues, but for the moment it is an outlier in terms of its placement in the series, and so while engaging it takes a way a bit from the overall narrative of the series.
Story: Erica J. Heflin Art: Marc Rosete Story: 8.7 Art: 8.7 Overall: 8.7 Recommendation: Buy
There is one major difference between the stories of Wonderland and those of the remainder of Grimm Fairy Tales. The majority of Grimm Fairy Tales franchises tend to focus on one world entirely, not two at the same time, as series are either based in the real world, as with the main series, or in their own separate worlds, as with Oz, Neverland, The Jungle Book and others. Wonderland is the series from all of them which takes a magical realm and shows the relevance of the real world on the events there and vice versa. While recent issues have tended to focus on something closer to a fantasy element for the series, it has nonetheless still been rooted closely enough to the events of the real world, as Calie still struggles to find a place in both.
The story here is told as the Terror has escaped and as the Squire faces punishment for this escape. While the events might have seemed to be restricted to Wonderland with the various plots being advanced by different characters, the action jumps back to the real world. As Calie meets up with Drew again she realizes that the darkness from her realm has spread back to Earth, with the Terror and the Red Rabbit keen to exploit her human connections against her. Meanwhile in Wonderland, the Squire finally begins to explain her own opinion on what could be happening to cause all of the malevolence.
This is a series that tends to balance somewhere between good and great, and while the past few issues could be said to be only good, this seems to be the return to something more for the series. There is a bit more gore here than what has been seen recently, but it also adds weight to what has happened. Certainly this story still has some distance to go before resolution, but the approach here is the one that has worked best for the series overall. Some Earth and some Wonderland equals the best outcome for story telling here.
Story: Erica J. Heflin Art: Marc Rosete Story: 9.1 Art: 9.1 Overall: 9.1 Recommendation: Buy
That the world of Wonderland is intricately layered should not be confusing. The series is after all based on the somewhat drug-fueled dreams of Lewis Carroll, and involved a land of whimsy and fantasy. The modern adaptation of this featuring heroine Calie Liddle has vacillated between different inspirations, especially since the takeover of Wonderland by Calie, and the handover of the creative duties to a new creative team. This essentially caused that it become a new series, one focused on pretty much anything, and one which has moved away from the madness inducing realm that it had started as. Sometimes the focus on more of a sword and sorcery fantasy, and sometimes it is closer to Carroll. The previous story arc involving the Squire and the En Passant was much more like the sword and sorcery inspiration, but the Carroll inspiration also usually remains.
This is the follow-up to the previous arc, and while it essentially continues the same story, it is evidently also somewhat different, and worthy enough to start its own story arc. With the Squire implicated in the escape of the Terror, she decides to keep her silence. Meanwhile other forces, these closer to the original source material, are at play in the effort to take out Calie from play. The resulting confusion is one which no one can seem to figure out what is happening, and where the Cheshire and Calie cannot comprehend the actions of the Squire, who had apparently become their new ally.
If the series seems to be somewhat convoluted, it is because it is. The story in this first issue of this new story arc continues what came before, but also throws it away. The Terror was a villain that had to be dealt with, but his role seems to be relatively unimportant here. Still this story deserves some benefit of the doubt. After the series writer Erica J. Heflin has somewhat of a pattern by this point of creating a puzzle for herself to start with and then to sort through it carefully and meticulously by the end of a story arc to produce another stunning victory. Such would seem to be the case here as all the pieces are in play for another amazing story, just that it is not clear how that will play out yet.
Story: Erica J. Heflin Art: Marc Rosete Story: 8.5 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy
Manuel Preitano is relatively new to the medium of comic books but he has already turned some heads primarily with his work at Zenescope. His work has particularly been noticed in the pages of Wonderland, the sometimes fantastical and sometimes maddening realm of dreams and nightmares. He joined us to talk about the series and its inspiration.
Graphic Policy: Grimm Fairy Tales features Calie Liddle as its main character, and unlike many other characters in comics it has looked at her evolution from a younger age to being older. She has undergone various changes in her appearance, but when taking on the role of the White Queen she evidently changed again. How do you draw her differently to reflect the fundamental change in the character?
Manuel Preitano: I was lucky enough to approach the amazing world of Wonderland gradually: first with the five issues miniseries “Clash of Queens”, which focused on the four queens of Wonderland battling each other; then, the main series, with Wonderland #33-36, which was my first occasion to draw Calie. You’re right about Calie changing a lot, and I think that’s part of the fascination of Wonderland setting. Wonderland is an unstable world that changes the people who fall into it. If you remember, in the original Alice in Wonderland book Alice undergoes a size change as soon as she gets down the rabbit hole, so this is definitely part of the Wonderland mythos. What Calie keeps all the time is her humanity, so I tried to draw her as a human being who suddenly has to deal with a wider world than she ever imagined. I had the occasion to draw her in many outfits, and I really had fun making different versions of her White Queen attire. The winter one in my Wonderland #33-36 run was a special favorite!
GP: Calie is the queen of a land of fantasy but also based in reality on Earth. How do you depict the character artistically to make sure that both are believable while also being the same character?
MP: It’s her continuously changing, but keeping her humanity at the same time. The script (written by Erica Jeanne Heflin) in Wonderland #33-36 made good use of this concept, I think. We had a good variety of real world scenes and fantasy ones. In Wonderland world she commands armies, she has great powers, she faces monsters and slays them with her sword… but in the real world problems are less direct, with the solutions coming from her relationships with other people. She has different approaches to different problems, and my approach as an artist tried to reflect that, with her body language, the way she poses and so on. I hope I did a good job!
GP: How hard is it to draw Wonderland, the realm of madness? Do you find yourself challenged to come up with increasingly weird things? Or is it kind of liberating as you can do whatever you want?
MP: I love to draw the contrast between the real world and Wonderland, as the former tries to explain everything with logic (and this reflects in the visuals) while the latter allows way more freedom and can really contain any setting you could imagine, ready to be drawn. It’s definitely liberating, yes! Erica had me draw some wonderful things (e.g. dragons, ghouls, pixies, etc.) in her story arc, and a big part of the story was set in a huge forest. I could work this contrast between real world cities and their geometrical shapes and fantasy woods with their organic, asymmetric designs. As a huge fan of Swamp Thing, I love drawing woods, swamps, and natural settings.
GP: Wonderland has become a lot more oriented to big cats in recent issues, with the battle of cats occurring on numerous occasions? Do you like drawing them?
MP: Yes! I love cats, and I love drawing cats. It always relaxes me when I have a whole Cheshire Cat sequence to draw. I’m very glad there were plenty of scenes with the character on the Wonderland related comics I worked on! Vincenzo Riccardi did a great job on Wonderland #32, where the story was really, really focused on cats!
GP: Wonderland as a series seems to be venturing out from the original books and taking on the fantasy genre. Do you have any particular inspirations when it comes to this genre?
MP: I like to study many references before drawing something, and that’s really easy when you love the genre. They come from very different places: many French comics have visually astonishing settings, so I went through them. Among other things, video games are also a good source of inspiration, and I always try to make a mix of contemporary and old school fantasy when drawing Wonderland. Works like Sandman: Overture have been a great inspiration for the unusual settings of Wonderland, as well; I try to follow the flow, checking both classics and more modern fantasy works.
GP: Are there any characters that stand out from a design standpoint in the Wonderland series?
MP: I like the White Queen design a lot, but there are so many to choose from. It’s quite a colorful world when it comes to design, as many of the characters have a very distinct style. I have a soft spot for the Queen of Spades in terms of design, as she really represents the archetype of the evil queen, so I hope to see her again at some point!
GP: The depiction of Violet as the Mad Hatter is kind of similar to that of Harley Quinn, which according to cosplayers is one of the most popular looks from comics. Why do you think that the female jester image is so appealing?
MP: It connects to that tradition of ambiguous, antihero characters, where you see they’re not completely evil (or they’re just crazy, so not intentionally doing evil), but they’re not good either. Harley Quinn is moved by her mad love for the Joker, and who hasn’t done crazy things for love (but not as crazy as Harley, one hopes)? Back to the Jester figure, in the Middle Ages and Renaissance there were licensed fools, people who were allowed to act crazy and criticize kings or nobles. They were allowed to tell the truth in a world dominated by strict rules and etiquette, so—no surprises here—the truth teller remains a popular figure today. Visually, characters like Mad Hatter Violet and Harley Quinn (referring to her original costume here) have a very solid look and color palette, immediately identifying them in this tradition, and this surely contributes to their popularity. I can pick a Harley Quinn costume out of a crowd of cosplayers, let’s say! The asymmetric design of Harley hints to her madness, so it’s like everything in her look talks about her inner life, which is very important in character design.
GP: Are there any characters from the Carroll books that you would like to see introduced or reintroduced into the ongoing stories?
MP: I love to draw monsters, so having the opportunity to draw the good ol’ Jabberwocky would be lot of fun to me!
I’ve been given the opportunity to design some creatures for the ongoing series, like Terror, the Red Rabbit, the Grinner and so on, so I’m eager to see what they’ll make me draw next time!
For the rest, Wonderland is a world with so many possibilities, so I would love to see new writers inventing new crazy concepts for the series, following Carroll’s concepts but adapting them to new times. Wouldn’t that be really fun to see? It’d be a lot of fun to draw!
It probably comes as a surprise, even for the disparate fans of Zenescope that there is a board game featuring one of the company’s properties. It is the case however, as the company seemed interested in expanding its covering of different media beyond just comics to board games. In essence there is probably no better series of characters to draw upon than those of the Grimm Fairy Tales Wonderland setting. In terms of the quality of writing it has consistently been the best that Zenescope has to offer, featuring main characters that are being driven insane even if there is a good reason for this insanity (their connection to Wonderland.) As the characters explore their own issues they keep coming up against the question of the chicken and the egg in terms of their own approach to life and how to deal with the realm of madness.
Although the series has been a standout for Grimm Fairy Tales and Zenescope it also begs the question about how to interpret this to a board game. While some fans might be drawn to the game because of its association to the comics, it is really worth questioning as to whether that is a good idea. The game draws on one of the mechanics of the series, that enemies have to be defeated in both on Earth and in Wonderland, and this is done through the Liddle House which was the source of so many troubles for the family. The usual suspects are here, and it is a nice association with the comic universe, but the mechanics are overly basic. As opposed to some popular games which use unconventional boards and strategies, this game is a relatively straightforward hunt and kill concept based on a grid movement system. The only real twist in the game is that the board is reversed when moving to Wonderland.
It is unfortunate that Zenescope went ahead with this idea as it was. It took a fairly popular series and reduced it to a game which could easily be designed and playtested in single day. It draws well from the comic material, but for fans who are unfamiliar with this material they might also wonder why certain characters are attacking each other and trying to kill one another when this is not the case in the original novel. As it stands this is a pretty weak entry as a board game, and while it would be nice to see Zenescope try again, hopefully it wouldn’t turn out like this did.
The denizens of Grimm Fairy Tales standout series return her for what is the end of the second major story arc after Erica J. Heflin took over the helm for the title. The change in focus under the new writer is one that was perhaps a natural evolution of the characters and setting but it is also one which leaves a lot open to interpretation. After all Wonderland is the seminal setting for the literary nonsense genre of fiction, a genre which really only contains a handful of recognizable entries. The setting is one which is full of the abstract and bizarre, but also one which is full of the stuff that makes up the fantasy genre, and so while this series is still very much set in the madness that was and is Wonderland, at times recently the series has almost taken on a fantasy feel.
As the final issue of this story arc, there are still evidently a few loose ends to be wrapped up. With the Terro on the loose, Calie and Cheshire are forced into an alliance with the Squire, who had given them the means by which to control the Terror. The Terror was not so easy to be controlled though and worked its powers to manipulate the minds of the Cheshire and the Squire into being enemies of Calie as she sought to control this threat. As Calie faces off against them here, it is not the most engaging part of the story although the action is fun enough, instead she faces against her own worst nightmares, but as a veteran of the torment of Wonderland, there are not as potent as her enemy thinks.
Once again this issue proves why this series is far and away the standout series from Zenescope. The characters are rich and the concept has depth. The metamorphosis of Calie from troubled teen in the earlier books to superhero queen is maybe not the most evident from the earlier stories involving the character, but as they are written it is natural and logical progression in the character’s path. This issue continues forward the strong momentum behind this series and finishes the second story arc with a bang, and sets up the future for more grat stories to come.
Story: Erica J. Heflin Art: Manuel Preitano Story: 9.3 Art: 9.3 Overall: 9.3 Recommendation: Buy
This is not so much of a comic only trend, but it is one which is evident enough in popular culture, specifically music videos. As a design element it is common enough to find in music videos a female singer lying down on an eclectic background as she sings, with the camera panning around her, usually with them squirming a bit on the background as they sing. For some reason this has been an influence in music videos long enough that it was evident in some of Britney Spears earlier songs as well as recently showing up in videos for Meghan Trainor and Ariana Grande. Certainly there are only so many inspirations that can exist for music videos, but this is one which is evidently very female, as no male singer has ever been shown to do it. As such it would seem to be sexual in some way, even if there is no real implied sexiness associated with it.
Since the introduction of Grimm Fairy Tales from Zenescope it has perhaps been the covers which have gotten the worst press for the company. While the covers do often depict its female characters in suggestive poses it is also a series which is noted for the abundance of mostly well written strong female leads. As such over time the covers have taken on different context. While there are still some which are sometimes exploitative and even overly sexual, there are lots which also just pay homage to iconic imagery of women as presented in the media, whether that be a woman waiting at a train stop or an updated depiction of Rosie the Riveter.
One of the three main covers for Wonderland #35 depicts Calie Liddle in the previously mentioned pose, though in this case it would seem to be almost a bit tongue-in-cheek. Although this trend of using female stars lying down on different backgrounds is not really fully described as a concept, it evidently exists enough in the public consciousness that this title could almost be said to be lampooning it. At first sight the image doesn’t look too different but when looked at more closely it is very much not the norm. Instead of a background which is normal, Calie is instead lying on the scales of what appears to be the neck of a dragon, an abnormal place for this as compared to the pop stars who more often than not are lying on a carpet with a strange design. In so doing it takes this design element and removes part of the hidden sexuality of it and replaces it with strength, incidentally something which Zenescope is known to with its female characters.
There is an interesting moment near the middle of this issue. It is reminiscent of the original source material, but at the same time very different. This singular moment acts as a microcosm for this series as whole. It is now very much different from the original source material, but it retains the same spirit, and as such acts as a logical interpretation of the evolution of this series. The creative team has taken what has come before, both from Lewis Carroll and from its predecessors at Zenescope and taken it in a new direction while still retaining enough from the past to make it maintain its continuity.
The present version of Wonderland has taken on what is essentially a fantasy setting, with inspiration from the original world of zany madness. Calie and the Cheshire Cat are aided by the Squire, who spends the issue hunting for her adversary before joined by her allies. Calie and the Cheshire are busy at the beginning dealing with their own peril, including the scene which pays homage to the beginning of the classic book. This involves an interesting scene involving a literal cat fight which plays out in the background while the series heroine has to find the artifact which she is after. Meanwhile a group of evil fairies aim to imprison the villain for this story arc, but in doing so they risk unleashing his true power.
The entire story here flows well, with the action balanced equally with the plot. The plot is going almost full-on fantasy, with Calie playing a similar role to many other iconic heroes from the genre, all the while retaining her ties to Wonderland and the real world. For a story arc which started out a bit slow, it has picked up all the momentum that it needs here, and it promises a memorable enough resolution.
Story: Erica J. Heflin Art: Manuel Preitano Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy
The ongoing story of Calie Liddle has been one which has left many questions unanswered about the realm of Wonderland. Most of the early stories featured characters that were close facsimiles of those from Lewis Carroll’s books, although with a more violent twist. As the series moved away from the focus on Wonderland to a focus on Calie trying to protect her daughter from its perils, the land once again was ignored. With the eventual and recent ascension of Calie to be the White Queen of Wonderland, at last the land was freed to be explored. With a focus on fantasy the realm is given the potential to be a rich landscape, especially with the tie-ins to the literary background, but at the same time it is necessary to find a landscape which fits both influences as well as Calie’s ties to the real world.
The most recent issue of Wonderland represents the middle issue of only the second story arc since Calie was let loose on the land to free it of the remaining pieces of its madness. In the previous issue Calie is led top the Antipathies who can reveal her true dreams to her, but at the same time a new warrior arrives to fight those that have been using dreams to fuel their own evil. This acts as the second issue of what is a longer story arc and doesn’t have as many big moments, but manages to move the plot along well enough as Calie enters the pool of the Antipathies and as she comes face to face with the new warrior. While this is an intermediary issue, it does also highlight the depth to which the new series writer Erica J. Heflin is willing to take to layer more into the realm. Some of it is too convenient to fantasy (dragons) but much of it is not, and while this issue lacks a lot of big moments, it at least shows the logical approach that the writer is taking to make the series emulate and give homage to the source material as opposed to distorting it.
There is less to expect from this issue, though as opposed to the previous week’s White Queen tie-in to Realm War, this at least works to get the non sequitur out of the character’s path and to get her back on track for her own stories. Those picking up this particular issue for the first time for a look into the well developed characters will likely be a little bit unimpressed as this is really not the strongest issue around to highlight what is so special about the character. Nonetheless this issue does what it needs to, moving the plot along and setting the stages for another memorable story arc.
Story: Erica J. Heflin Art: Manuel Preitano Story: 8.4 Art: 8.4 Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy
Calie Liddle has been getting a lot of focus recently, between two Grimm Fairy Tales miniseries in the past year that have tied her into the larger universe, and her own ongoing series. While the other series are great in that they increase the exposure for this complex character, they are also not where the true strength of this character rests. For the majority of the character’s existence her complexity was derived from a simple question, trying to figure out how much of her madness was within and how much came from Wonderland. Now ruling over Wonderland as its White Queen, the series has been redirected to a completely different direction, focusing instead on her quest to rid the realm of the madness which infects the others.
In terms of the new direction, it was relatively seamless, her victory not resulting in the end of her stories, but rather serving as the continuation of what has come before. The first story arc of this new direction featured Calie battling a menace on both Earth and in Wonderland, and presumably operating under the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” concept, this second story arc is laid out in a similar pattern, as Calie goes to hunt for a bizarre group known as the antipathies, but not before getting kind of creeped out on Earth. While the format is the same, the presentation is not. While this issue suffers a bit of a bump is in its presentation of new characters, it is only a minor setback compared to the interpretation of this fantastical setting as well as the surprisingly close relationship between Calie and her cat. By the end of the issue with what lays ahead, this may end up being a noteworthy story arc.
One of the main criticisms of most Zenescope titles is that they rely on selling scantily clad female characters, and otherwise it is just a bunch of boring fairy tale stories. The same can be said for a lot of comics not just for Zenescope, and those that think so are missing out on a lot of interesting stories. This can be especially said for Wonderland, what is Zenescope best series and product by a wide margin. In some respects this issue falls a bit short of the expected, especially in the replication of the format which came before, but as always there is more depth here than in a lot of comics and so this issue, while maybe not a standout, serves as a good example of why more people should think of this series as a standout.
Story: Erica J. Heflin Art: Manuel Preitano Story: 8.8 Art: 8.8 Overall: 8.8 Recommendation: Buy