Monday, May 21, 2012

GN Review -- Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer and the Great Puppet Theater / Van Jensen and Dusty Higgins

My memory of the first volume of Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer is a book that had a good premise, but that ultimately felt underwhelming due to that premise wearing thin quickly.  There were a lot of twists and turns that I saw coming, jokes that were overused, and a plot that I'd seen too many times in other works.  It wasn't a bad read, but I couldn't help feeling that it could have been more.  I'm pleased to say that its sequel, Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer and the Great Puppet Theater, delivers a much more engrossing narrative and really ups the stakes in a positive way.

Having slain his creator-turned-vampire Gepetto in the last book, and now having to ally himself with a friend who's now a vampire, Pinocchio coldly continues his quest, his anger threatening to consume him.  When he and his comrades are overwhelmed by a large group of vampires, they are rescued by the wooden puppets of the Great Puppet Theater, who have met him before.

They begin a hunt for the vampire who turned Gepetto, trekking across Italy to find him, but have more than a few significant obstacles to overcome, from the interpersonal dramas within the ranks of the theater puppets to Pinocchio's distrust of Cherry's vampiric bloodlust.  When a tragic turn of events deprives Cherry of his life, his fairy friend Canpenella turns him into a real boy, making him a liability in a fight.  Canpenella dies as a result of the spell, and soon after, Carlotta is kidnapped and taking to sea by the vampires, who are in league with the villainous Fox and Cat.  Despite a dogged pursuit and valiant fight aboard the vampires' ship, Pinocchio and his puppet friends are left adrift at sea, their fate uncertain as the vampires escape with Carlotta as their prisoner.

Taking another turn at the darkly irreverent humor that made the first book so popular, Van Jensen and Dusty Higgins deliver a worthy tale that combines adventure, dark fantasy, and just enough laughs to keep things from getting to gritty and serious.  And believe me, there are some fairly serious twists and turns in the narrative.  Pinocchio's unabated bitterness and anger at his station in life is made explicit, and they are ultimately the cause of several big turns for the worse.  On the other hand, you have the hilarious personalities and squabbles of his puppet brethren, as well as the occasional wordiness or idiocy of the vampires everyone fights lightening things up from time to time.  It's a delicate balance to maintain, and these gentlemen pull it off nicely in this volume.

Dusty Higgins's artwork does an excellent job of supporting the narrative.  It's dark and gritty, with expressive undertones that make plenty of room for the story's humorous moments.  While it does look a little rushed or indistinct in some places, there are many more where it truly shines.  Pinocchio's fight with Cherry is both vicious and heartbreaking, and the ship to ship fight between the vampires and Pinocchio's forces is exhilarating to behold.

Overall, if you liked the first book, I'm pretty sure you'll like this one even more.  It's got a lot going on, packing character drama, adventure, humor and dark fantasy in one enjoyable package.  Highly recommended.

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