Author: Neil Gaiman | Illustrator: Michael Zulli | Page Count: 102
“I'll take away the uncertainty, Steven. I'll take away the fear. I'll take away the boredom and the pain. You want more than that?”
This is a strange fish. It’s the product of a partnership between writer Neil Gaiman and rock musician Alice Cooper. It’s not Alice’s first foray into the world of comics. He’s been here before but never with such notable talent. I'm a fan of both Alice and Gaiman so it should've been manna from heaven to me. It’s a coming of age story, much like Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This way Comes (1962) which it reminded me of more than once; if the Showman of TLT isn't based on Bradbury’s carnival leader Mr Dark then I’ll eat Impudent Urinal’s hat.
The story illustrates the pitfalls that lie ahead when a frightened kid, Steven, is forced to take control of his own destiny for the first time in his life. He meets a host of freaks that tempt him with promises of new experiences. The Showman reveals his Theatre of the Real, the Grandest Guignol, and offers Steven something that I'm sure many of us have wished in our lives.
It’s a morality tale with theatrical trappings, telling the same story as Alice's concept album of the same name, but where Alice had music, Gaiman has artist Mike Zulli who does a wonderful job with the sinister themes. There are times when the frame is much too busy but most of the time Zulli gets it right.
It’s all done in the blackest of ink with no colour, which sadly can be said for the story too. Everything is black and white: good and bad is clearly defined. There's little room for the emotional ambiguity that Gaiman is good at. While the narrative is restricted by the source material, he still manages to play around a little (one of the kids is dressed like Morpheus from Sandman for Hallowe’en).
If you know the album you’ll know how it all ends. If you’re reading it as a Gaiman fan without prior knowledge of the album concept, it'll entertain but not as much as his regular day job would. I'm such a nerd that I've sat and read the book while listening to the music. It didn't enrich either experience very much but it was a fun experiment nonetheless.
2½ sideshows and dodgy back alley deals out of 5