‘Kingdom of the Wicked:’ Graphic Novel Review

Kingdom of the Wicked is a riveting, bizarre nightmare-dream of decimated nostalgia and destroyed memories.  Written by Ian Edginton and magnificently illustrated and colored by artist D’Israeli, this is the third time this inventive and disturbing book has been published, first by Caliber Comics, then Dark Horse, and now Titan Comics. Kingdom of the Wicked still though has the feeling and urgency of being created yesterday, and it was a wonder to lose myself in its world. That world is the imaginary land of Castrovalva, created by writer Chris Grahame as a child, and then abandoned years later as he advanced on into adulthood. But, when Chris returns to Castrovalva, a place that has continued to exist in his mind without his conscious involvement, he finds all is not well, and it turns out that all is not well with Chris either.

This is a mere taste of the strange, unique, brutal, and touching story that unfolds in Kingdom of the Wicked. Edginton and D’Israeli strike a perfect balance between the mundane normality of Chris’s day-to-day life with the magical, and at times horrific, events and characters in Castrovalva. This story is not a sweet, gentle fairy tale; those moments do exist, as there is something very sinister, aberrantly cruel, and malicious pulling at the seams of these characters and this once-happy realm, and the land teeters on the brink of absolute destruction. Chris is thrust into this new reality, which has been suffering and dying within his own mind without his knowing. Edginton’s writing is magical and light at times, and furtive, fearful, and tense at others. He walks a tightrope between the halcyon days of nostalgia and the terrible days of the present. Chris searches for a way to reconcile the two, though reconciliation may be impossible without dramatic change.

Castrovalva’s decline is intrinsically linked to Chris in a remarkable and unexpected way, and it is obvious that Edginton is not afraid to take us down a dark, weird path. Full of psychological underpinnings that could be tricky to pull off, he, along with D’Israeli, succeed with boldness, creating a plethora of intense emotions both in the characters and the reader, and the impact is lasting. A sense of unease hangs over the entire story, heightened by D’Israeli’s tight, sparse line work, conveying Chris’ shock and horror through thin-lipped screams, clenched teeth, and wide, white eyes. It is a slightly cartoonish style, but it is always grounded in the reality of the story, and it is used to outwardly express the characters’ struggles, sorrows, and turmoil. In Castrovalva the magical has only been matched by the terrible, and the artwork and bright, lurid colors bring this violent, crumbling land to breathtaking life.

Kingdom of the Wicked is a whimsical, nasty, revelatory piece of work, slowly creeping up on you until you are completely and utterly engulfed in its life-and-death battle for survival. The stakes are higher than you can imagine, and actually beyond what you can imagine, because this is a story that exists on the inside rather than the outside, unraveling within the mind of its main character, an everyman that Edginton makes frighteningly relatable. For a tale wholly unexpected, and even with teddy bear soldiers, incredibly deep and philosophical, I dare you to journey into the minds of Edginton and D’Israeli and straight into the Kingdom of the Wicked.        

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