Friday, January 20, 2012

GN Review -- The Last Unicorn / Peter S. Beagle, Peter B. Gillis, Renae de Lis, and Ray Dillon

Considered a timeless classic by many, The Last Unicorn was originally a fantasy novel published in 1968 by Peter S. Beagle.  Decades later, publisher IDW has seen fit to give the story a graphic novel treatment, first as a six-issue comic book limited series, then as a collection of those issues in a hardbound cover edition, published in early 2011.

The Last Unicorn begins in the unicorn’s forest, where she comes to hear men speaking of unicorns, and how they apparently no longer exist.  She wonders if they are right, and sets off on a quest to find out if the other unicorns have disappeared or died out.  Along the way, she meets several characters who gradually help her advance toward her goal, including an inept wizard, the testy wife of a woodland fugitive, and a valiant prince who couldn’t be more different from his miserable, uncaring father, who ends up being one of the story’s main antagonists.

While I’m generally not a fan of unicorns or unicorn stories, it doesn’t mean I can’t admire the subject matter when it’s told with good writing, and while I can’t speak directly for Beagle and his novel, I will say that the graphic novel adaptation by Peter B. Gillis satisfies on this level.  The unicorn’s quest to find out if she is indeed the last of her kind makes for an interesting idea, with plenty of interesting characters, situations, and twists toward the end.  Mythological allusions are made here and there, giving the narrative a slightly mystical, otherworldly feel to it that effectively holds on to readers’ attention.

I really did enjoy the artwork in The Last Unicorn.  Renae de Liz draws beautifully and boldly, rendering amazing and immediately recognizable characters, beasts, and settings that dovetail nicely with the enchanting, sometimes darkly fantastic subject matter.  Ray Dillon’s colors are also very rich and lush, really bringing a shine to the line work.  Both work together to memorably lend a brilliant visual to support the fantasy narrative.

The Last Unicorn suffers from a less severe form of misdirected recognition than does another comic adaptation of a novel, The Alchemist.  That work hides the credits for all its creators (except for original author Paulo Coelho) until you open the cover and check the credits on the back flap and, if memory servers, the verso of the title page.  The Last Unicorn, at least, only omits their names from the front cover, where Beagle is solely credited.  You can read their names on the spine, back cover, and verso of the title page.  While I may have issues with this, I’ve clearly seen worse practices in this area.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this work, and think it will do especially well among fantasy readers, those who remember the novel fondly, and those who simply like a good adventure story.  It’s well paced, imaginatively paneled, and beautifully drawn and colored.  It’s a visual treatment of a prose work that won’t disappoint.  Highly recommended.

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