Graphic Novel Review: The Stuff of Legend Book One: The Dark

The Stuff of Legend Book One: The Dark 

Written by Mike Raicht & Brian Smith

Art by Charles Paul Wilson III 

Color and Design by Jon Conkling and Michael DeVito

$13.00 / 128 Pages / Color / Paperback

Villard Books and Th3rd World Studios 


Growing up, I didn't have brothers or sisters. I had a dog and I had Thundercats. My mother still has the photos of that first dog, a chow named Bear, sitting next to me on a recliner chair with as much dignity as can be mustered while still wearing a pot on his head. In my own defense, I was wearing an even larger pot and we were watching Dinosaucers, so there could've been falling debris. Imagination was everything. That dog was my co-pilot and a vast and diverse assortment of action figures–from inherited GI-Joes to shiny new Silverhawks–made up our battalion.  

Toys, either in their abundance or in their scarcity, can really shape our drive for storytelling. I suppose it works differently for every kid, but our playthings serve as props for that innate need to create some kind of narrative. We're all stage directors, and those figurines are our actors. If we're alone, they made us feel less lonely. In a group, they were a way to connect, to act as extensions of our own personalities. And as tokens of childhood, toys have long figured prominently in fantasy stories. The secret adventures of plush animals, wind-ups and dolls are as time-honered as The Velveteen Rabbit and as fresh as Toy Story. Two recent comics have also mined this rich concept. You're probably familiar with Grant Morrison's fantastic Vertigo title Joe the Barbarian. But the other is just as entertaining and inventive, though with far less fanfare. 

It's called the Stuff of Legend, and it's like a sepia toned treasure waiting in the attic. 

The Stuff of Legend is sort of like Winnie the Pooh, if Christopher Robin had a burlap bag pulled over his head and a knee thrust to his kidneys before being marched off into a very blustery, very savage neck of the Hundred Acre Woods. It's 1944 and a young boy is abducted by the Boogeyman, dragged by the ankles into the closet realm known as The Dark. A loyal band of toys including a valiant toy soldier, a teddy bear, an Indian princess, a reluctant piggy bank, as well as Scout, the boy's scrappy young puppy, venture into the shadows on a perilous rescue mission. Once inside the closet, the toys take on the appearance that their real-world forms merely suggested. Maxwell the teddy becomes a ferocious grizzly bear. A Jack-in-the-box becomes a spindly, acrobatic clown. As for Scout, who once towered over most of the toys, he's now just a tiny little puppy nipping at their heels. Though he remains quietly, courageously loyal to the cause. 

What begins as a very gentle, very whimsical call to arms for a band of beloved toys quickly transitions into an unexpectedly grim crusade. There's a narrative gap between the point where the toys enter the closet and the next sequence, when they're in the midst of a violent battle with an army of Boogeyman's forces. Most of the toys stored in the closet are obedient subjects to that cruel dictator, so the enemy here is a conglomerate of cowboys, medieval knights, Russian infantry, and soldiers of the American civil war. The skirmish is wickedly violent, with an intelligent grizzly bear rampaging through a phalanx of mismatched soldiers, and a clown and Indian princess cartwheeling through the fray with sharpened blades. The puppy and animated toys miraculously survives the ordeal which is eventually referred to as the Battle of Brooklyn Creek. It's all an incredible and perfectly jarring introduction to the world of the Dark and its stark contrast from the peaceful world of the child's bedroom. 

The story also takes a turn for the Narnia, with one of the toys forced into a difficult decision when confronted by the Boogeyman. This isn't simply an epic journey through a hellish dreamscape. There are also machinations. Betrayals. And the stakes are raised pretty early on in the campaign. Consider, for example, the ultimate fate of a piggy bank. The kind that has a slot for coins and no cork-sealed opening for their retrieval. Think about a toy's relationship with a rascally little dog. A dog who might be teething. Things become even more interesting when the toys happen upon a walled city called Hopscotch, where the boy's board games have all come together to create a peculiar society built around strict rules, numbers, and chance cards that often decide matters of life and death. Mike Raicht and Brian Smith take advantage of the rich tradition of toys and games to create a complex and compelling universe. 

If I have any real criticism for Stuff of Legend, it's that the dialogue can often feel overly formal and stiff. Word balloons sometimes feel like little more than a utility to advance the story. As an element, that's a large part of dialogue's purpose. But I was left wanting a little more personality and depth to those conversations. I get the sense that the exchanges might become a little looser, a little more colorful as the series progresses. It makes sense to a certain extent that the toys would speak formally because their existence is so simple. They are servants, subjects to their master, this child. They're simple characters. Maybe there will be some evolution, but for now it's a little rudimentary and feels like a means towards exposition. Ultimately, the world is so captivating and the plot so inventive, that I'm willing to overlook the stilted nature of the toys' speech. 

The art by Charle Paul Wilson III is showcased almost entirely in sepia tones, save for a few instances of red or yellow sound effects. This gives the pages a whimsical storybook quality and reminded me of Shaun Tan's The Arrival, a real favorite. The illustration work is gorgeous, with careful attention to character modeling and value. It may be more closely related to a meticulously drawn children's book like a Jumanji than to most other comic book art. Still, the sequential storytelling is clean and lucid, with great layout variety for a square format book. Wilson handles both the quiet moments of a teddy bear resting on a bed just as well as those grand action sequences of the grizzly bear counterpart. The back-matter contains two pages of character studies that showcase his exceptional abilities as a fine artist. But don't take it from me. There's a very positive pull quote from Frank Quitely on the back of this edition remarking on the team's economy and effective storytelling. 

The Stuff of Legend really lives up to its name. It's a bold new entry into a pretty fascinating tradition. There's a reason so many people have been telling stories about toys and their adventures. We have an immediate attachment to these characters, or at least to what they represent. Sometimes a toy was there just when we needed it. A good dog too. Team that with more than a little imagination, and that was our own defense against the things that went bump in the night. It's no small thing. So I can see why countless writers and artists have been celebrating it. But even beyond all the warm and fuzzy, this is a real romp. It's all fun and games until the Boogeyman comes a callin'.


Get your paws on The Stuff of Legend Book One: The Dark from Amazon


Story: 4 stars      Art: 5 stars      Overall: 5 stars


Paul Montgomery is converting his Teddy Ruxpin cassettes to mp3 . Find him on Twitter or contact him at 


  1. Great review Paul. I first heard of this book when all the "Joe the Barbarian" talk had been happening. It peaked my interest. After reading this review, is has instantly been purchased and is on it’s way. I can’t wait to crack it open and get to read it. 

  2. The first issue was more or less shoved in my face by my LCS and I thnk them for it ever since.  This is great stuff, glad to see you enjoyed as well Paul.

  3. The second series just got solicited as well…

  4. Charles Paul Wilson III has deviantart page with a ton of great sketches:

    My favorite of those sketches involves everyone’s favorite vigilante Lobster Johnson:


  5. Ordered.  Thanks.

  6. I got the FCBD issue and it reminds me of an evil Winnie the Pooh universe.

  7. Paul, thanks for highlighting this book! I remember trying to promote it last year when the FCBD issue came out. This is the kind of story I would like to write and/or draw some day. It’s far from perfect, but I’ll be darned if it’s not fantastically fun. 

    The best part of the FCBD version was the fact that it was presented in standard comic form so in order to accomadate the square panel layouts the talented Mr. Wilson did little portraits of the toys for the bottom 1/4 of each page. Great stuff!

    @Churchill Thank you for pointing out Wilson’s art page. I wasn’t aware he had one.

  8. I picked up the Free Comic Book Day issue this year.  It was chapter 3 I believe.  The art was gorgeous, but I agree with you, @Paul, that the dialogue felt stiff and formal.  Also, in that issue the toy that is "forced into a difficult decision" is basically revealed.  I was left a llittle disapointed. 

    However, after reading your review and having a little more premise and a glimpse at whats to come and a great price point ($13?!) Im gonna give the first trade a shot. 

    PS.  I LOVED my Silverhawks action figures! I never saw a single episode of the show and had no idea who the characters the figures represented were but each one came with their own pet/weapon bird! Awesome!

    Thanks Paul!

  9. This looks very solid.  Thank you for bringing this to my attention.