Frank Beddor’s maddeningly clever Hatter M series begins to hit its stride with the second volume Mad With Wonder as the title character wanders the New World of America. Branching off from the traditional British perspective, Hatter M continues its foray into genre blending storytelling by dropping our Milliner dead centre in the war of the American Civil War.
Caught between the Confederates and the Yankees, Hatter M persists in his search for Alyss through the lawless and dangerous South. Hope glows briefly in the form of Sister Sally, the miraculous healer starring in a traveling carnival. Hatter M is lead to believe he may have at long last found his Princess Alyss, albeit in disguise, but another individual is also drawn to Sally’s source of White Imagination: Redd Heart, the diabolical ruling Queen of Wonderland. His battle with her is short and dangerous, and he is lucky to escape Redd’s forces with his Hat, let alone his life.
Further in the story, Hatter M is dropped into the infamous, real-life Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum of Weston, West Virginia. He struggles to deal with the smug and abusive authorities of the hospital, but finds unexpected allies in the general patient population, all of which are more than accepting of Hatter M’s Wonderland reality.
Beddor gradually moves Hatter M from a playful plotline to far darker fantasies in this volume. The familiar violent history of the Civil War is an appropriate background for a character whose true roots are furthered revealed as aggressive and dangerous. His training at the Millinery in Wonderland on the heels of elder brother Dalton discloses a past fraught with good intentions and shady conclusions. He, too, is a soldier and some habits die harder than others.
Artist Sami Makonnen is an excellent choice to succeed Ben Templesmith’s helm in the art department. Gloomy, blended pencils and scribbled inks lend an uneven and menacing effect, while washed-out watercolours portray the South as alternately bleak and hostile. Hatter M: Mad With Wonder is a step beyond volume one in ambition, and readers will be drooling to get to the next issue before the last page.