Free Country: A Tale of The Children's Crusade

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Free Country: A Tale of The Children's Crusade

Neil Gaiman, Toby Litt, Rachel Pollack, Alisa Kwitney, Jamie Delano, Chris Bachalo, Peter Gross, Peter Snejbjerg. et. al., 2015

New release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Once upon a time there was an idea for a Vertigo Comics crossover story, which took characters from a handful of titles (Sandman, Swamp Thing, Books of Magic, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Black Orchid) and gave young characters from these worlds a story together. Unfortunately, given budgets and timelines, the plot ended up a bit rushed. This edition features an all-new middle chapter, giving more characters on-panel time and clarifying the story. Acts One and Three originally released 1993-1994 as The Children’s Crusade 1 and 2.

Premise the Second: Children disappear. It happens. It has always happened. But what if they are all going to the same place? Who could possibly be able to find out?

This story is intriguing for the historical context of how it came about (see premise above), but happily also interesting for the story itself. The second chapter fits into the style and flow perfectly, and I can only see the patch because I’m looking for it.

Of the stories referenced here, I am most familiar with Sandman, followed by Swamp Thing and Animal Man, I think I read a little Books of Magic once, and I don’t really know anything about Black Orchid or what Doom Patrol was like in the 90’s. Luckily for the publishers of this collection, I think most readers are going to be in my situation, since it’s two Sandman characters that are the most prominent in the story.

If you read Season of Mists, you probably remember Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine. When we pick up with them here, they’ve set up a detective agency, but aren’t having much luck with clients, being ghosts and invisible to many people. When an entire village of British children disappears, the one girl who was out of town that day asks the boys for their help.

This reads similarly to parts of Sandman and other Vertigo books of the 90’s: it’s full of digressions, literary and mythological allusions, connected histories and stories told in parallel. The larger plot containing the history of Free Country and the characters who call it home is more interesting than most of the business with the characters from the various other Vertigo titles.

Most of said business is in the new middle chapter: I would have been quite lost on aspects of the story without it. Even as it is, I didn’t entirely follow some of what happened.

As a ‘crossover’ specifically, this volume is just okay. I’d hate to be a big fan of Doom Patrol who picked this up and then found that character relegated to not much more than a handful of citations. However, as a unique piece with slight ties to other stories, I found it a fascinating story.

It’s not going to be for everyone (specifically, it’s for fans of books published by Vertigo in the 90’s), but for anyone looking to scratch that itch, I think this is going to be a hit.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

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