Rapunzel’s Revenge is a twisted take on the fairy tale that sparkles with life, intelligence, wit, adventure, and just plain fun.
For the first time, the story of a girl locked in a tower by an evil stepmother and her excessively long hair makes a certain amount of sense. Writers Shannon and Dean Hale give Rapunzel character and motivation — she’s active, making choices, instead of someone bad things are done to. Oh, there’s plenty of that, too, but she works to overcome her circumstances instead of passively waiting for a prince to wander by.
Rapunzel is a young girl who lives in a beautiful villa with everything she could want except freedom. The woman who says she’s her mother has the power to make things grow, an ability she uses to keep those around her under her control. On her twelfth birthday, Rapunzel learns the truth about her life, and as a result, the evil woman locks her away in the hollowed-out top of a tree.
What’s freshest about this story is how Rapunzel gets away. She grows amazingly long braids, which four years later, she uses as rope to lasso a nearby tree and swing to safety … ungracefully, for that touch of humor and realism. The cartooning by Nathan Hale (no relation) is outstanding. It’s clear and easy to read, helpful for those new to graphic novels, but full of attitude and expression and movement. That suits the Western feel the story transitions into.
Rapunzel stumbles into a nearby town, where she learns to work for what she needs and meets Jack, a conman and thief who introduces her to life on the run. They try to rescue a kidnapped little girl, only to discover that the world is full of double-crosses and the selfish, whether they’re officially outlaws or not. There’s a quest voyage and opportunities to help various folk they meet along the way, defeating various monsters and threats.
The story is lengthy and rewarding. The book is 144 pages, but with a higher-than-average number of panels per page, at 8 to 14, the story involves you for a long time. That’s a great way to feel like you’re really visiting Rapunzel’s world. The chapters, by contrast, open with lovely full-page illustrations setting the stage for the action to come.
If I’d managed to read this when it came out in 2008, it would have easily been one of my top ten books of that year. It’s hilarious, inspiring, and well worth reading and re-reading.
The sequel, Calamity Jack, fills in Jack’s background (with a beanstalk, of course) in a battle against tyrant giants. I didn’t like it quite as much because it becomes more a boy’s adventure, but it certainly has much of the appeal of the original in reworking well-known tales with new eyes.