Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer: David. M. Booher
Artwork: Drew Zucker
Colours: Vittorio Astone
Letters: Deron Bennett
Release Date: 26th June 2019
Sometimes when you see a piece of solicited art or read a blurb you instantly find yourself take a shine to a new comic. However, on these occasions, there’s always a mild feeling trepidation upon picking it up that when you read it, it won’t live up to the idea you’ve built up in your head. Canto is one of those rare comics that easily surpasses expectations to deliver a powerful emotional punch in a deceptively simple package.
Pegged as a story inspired by both the Wizard of Oz and Dante’s Inferno, Canto is a classic fairy tale reimagined. Opening in a bleak world, there’s beautiful asymmetry with the naïve children’s story of a princess-saving knight being recounted over the imagery of slavery and brutal oppression. The fact that the oppressed are chibi-like metal suits of armour themselves doesn’t lessen the impact of the cruelty. If anything, it heightens that emotional tug as it’s hard to imagine inflicting punishment and despair upon these cute little fellows.
Canto is one of a group of little tin people who have their hearts replaced by cogs and clocks. There’s no chance to wind up again, and when the clockwork runs down, your time is ‘up’. On top of that, there’s a collective loss of history and ongoing enslavement. Not allowed to have names, Canto is a bit of an anomaly having been gifted his by a special friend. Said friend is injured and their clock ‘heart’ damaged beyond repair. With their life ebbing (or perhaps it’s more fitting to say ‘ticking away’), Canto sets off on a perilous journey like the knights of the old story on a quest to find his princess a new heart.
The team have really played a blinder here. Booher wrangles old tropes and clichés into a really fresh feeling adventure. There’s so much familiarity to draw you in quickly but, almost paradoxically, it all feels new, like this is the first dark fairy tale you’ve ever heard. The visuals delivered by Zucker, Astone, and Bennett manage to straddle the line between dark and whimsy without putting a foot wrong. There’s obviously a lot implied here but the book overall remains an all-ages wonder which I can already see myself wanting to pick up a collected version of to re-read with the kids.
There’s a danger that a lot of this awe is, in effect, self-projected. But then again, that’s maybe part of the magic. For those of a certain age this will bring back memories of things like the Labyrinth, Dark Crystal, and maybe even Short Circuit. It takes me back to that wide-eyed, child-like optimism of hope triumphing over evil, now all too easily forgotten. There’s an almost impossible looking task ahead but you can’t beat that warm feeling of seeing the brave hero set out, with you alongside.
Canto #1 genuinely caught me off guard. I had admittedly set some rather high expectations but I still wasn’t prepared for how hard this hit me in the feels. To have evoked so much emotion in such a short space of time is no easy feat. I’m not saying this will have you welling up, but if it doesn’t at least stir you, maybe you’ve had your heart replaced too.
The writer of this piece was: Adam Brown
Adam Tweets from @brother_rooster