Over the Garden Wall is the creation of Adventure Time alumnus Patrick McHale which first premiered on Cartoon Network in 2014. Consisting of 10 ten-minute episodes, the series is a gorgeously animated brew of 17th, 18th and 19th century Americana, children’s literature and deep cut references to the Golden Age of animation. Which, as you can probably guess from that description, means that if it was any more my jam I’m be spreading it on my crumpets. Throughout October I’ll be doing short reviews of each episode so let’s crack on. Episode 1. The Old Grist Mill.
After the opening song a montage introducing many of the characters we’ll meet over the course of the series we meet two young boys, Wirt and Greg (and a frog) making their way through a dark, spooky forest. Wirt realises that he has no idea how they arrived there and begins to panic because this place is creepy as hell and everything just seems slightly off. Greg, who’s very much “the Mabel” in this Dipper/Mabel dyad, offers to leave a trail of candy behind them but that’s of little use since they’re already deep in the spooky, scary forest.
They come across an elderly woodsman carrying a lantern and chopping down trees that are filled with a strange, black ooze. Wirt’s too afraid to approach the woodsman but then the boys are approached by Beatrice, a talking bluebird who offers to help them escape the forest. She flies off when the Woodsman overhears them talking and demands to know what they’re doing.
The Woodsman tells them that they’re in a place called “The Unknown” and that they need to am-scray because “The Beast walks these woods”.
The Woodsman takes them back to his mill and offers to let them stay the night. Wirt is getting serious stranger-danger from the Woodsman and asks him what he’s doing out in the forest. The Woodsman tells them that he has to grind the wood of the Edwelweiss trees into oil to keep his lantern lit. Wirt nervously suggests to Greg that they might need to knock the Woodsman out and make a run for it, before immediately dismissing that as a really bad plan. Seeing that Wirt’s nervous, he tells the kids that they’re free to go whenever they want but that if they’re still at the mill after he’s finished with his work, he’ll try to help them fin their way home.
Unsure of what to do, Wirt stays by the fire while Greg goes looking for his frog. Outside the mill he gets attacked by a terrifying beast who, as Greg notes, has beautiful eyes.
Greg runs back into the house, chased by the beast. The Woodsman tries to defend the children but gets knocked unconscious by Greg, who didn’t get the memo that they weren’t going with that plan.
The boys are chased by the beast into the mill where it ends up getting caught in the gears. This causing the whole mill to break apart but also dislodges one of Greg’s candies from the beast’s throat, which causes it to change back into a perfectly ordinary dog. (EDIT: Thanks to Alice Shattuck for pointing out that it’s not actually the candy that caused the dog to transform but the turtle that the candy was stuck to because it turns out that the black turtles have a mysterious connection to the Edelweiss trees and the Beast itself because dang but the lore is deep in this despite the whole thing clocking in at 100 minutes). The Woodsman regains consciousness and is furious to discover that the mill is gone and most of his oil has been lost. Wirt says that, hey, at least they got the Beast and the Woodsman yells that the dog was not the Beast. A beast, sure. But not The Beast. Wirt gets angry at Greg but the Woodsman tells him that as the elder brother, Greg’s dumb-fuckery is his responsibility and as an older brother myself that I find that sentiment to be rank Only Child Privilege. Anyway, the Woodsman wearily sends them on their way, calling after them “Beware the Unknown! Fear the Beast! And flee these woods if you can!”
How was it?: The Old Grist Mill is simultaneously an excellent cartoon and probably the worst OGW episode. Not a criticism, it just shows how insanely high this series sets the bar. It’s great, but the night-time setting means we don’t get the gorgeous autumnal colours of the later episodes. Beatrice (the blue-bird) only gets an early-bird cameo (see what I did there?) and while Lloyd is fantastic as the Woodsman, he’s no Auntie Whispers or Quincy Endicott. My point is, knowing all the fanastic stuff that’s coming down the line makes this first episode seem a little drab in comparison.
Holy Crap, that sounds like…: Wirt is played by Frodo Baggins himself, Elijah Wood. The Woodsman is played by a magnificently husky Christopher Llloyd.
Can I see some references?: This episode draws heavily on classic fairy tales. The two children lost in the woods, the candy trail and the Woodsman are all echoes of Hansel and Gretel. Greg’s terrified “You have beautiful eyes…” to the dog is a clear reference to Little Red Riding Hood. As for animation references, the creepy forest with its macabre, scowling trees is pure Snow White. And the whole concept of a huge, gooey monster becoming small and harmless after a single corrupting influence is expelled reminded me very much of Hayao Miyazaki.
This frog’s name is: After the Woodsman tells Greg to give the frog a proper name, Greg spends the rest of the series trying to do just that. This episode, the frog is called Kitty and Wirt (to avoid confusion, Greg renames Wirt “Kitty”)
Let me tell you about the only comic book to ever make me cry in public.
From the first page of Amazing Spider-Man #121 something is off. There’s no title. Simply a sombre note from editorial telling the reader that they won’t actually learn what the name of the story is until the end. But it’s still very much a seventies Spider-Man story; bright primary colour palette, soap opera melodrama to burn and an exclamation point/period ratio of around 90 to 1. Norman Osbourne, who used to be the Green Goblin but has forgotten the whole thing because of amnesia, is undergoing a psychological breakdown because his son Harry went on a bad acid trip (did I mention that this came out in the seventies?). Suddenly, he relapses and remembers not only that he’s the Green Goblin, but that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Racing to Peter’s apartment to enact his revenge, he instead finds Peter’s girlfriend Gwen Stacey who he abducts. Peter desperately pursues the Goblin to a bridge (George Washington per the text, Brooklyn according to the art) and Spider-Man and Osbourne have a desperate, thrilling mid-air battle that comes to a horrific halt when Gwen Stacey is thrown of the bridge by the Goblin.
Frantically, Peter shoots his webs to catch her before she hits the ground…and he does! He’s saved her! He’s won! Good triumphs over…
No. This time it’s different. And, on the final page, we at last learn the name of the story we’ve been reading which is, of course The Night Gwen Stacey Died. This is the panel that always makes me well up. :
At this point in the comics, Peter Parker was no longer a teenager. He had graduated college, he was an adult. But he was still very much a children’s character. And I find something indescribably tragic about this child’s superhero cradling the body of the woman he loves, unable to comprehend that his world has changed and that the old rules don’t hold true anymore. Good does not always triumph over evil. The innocent are not always spared. The guilty are not always punished. The people you cannot live without will be taken nonetheless. It’s a story about the loss of innocence we all go through and it’s one of very few single issue comics that I would hold up as an absolute work of art. It’s a piece that’s moved me deeply and that I feel a real personal connection to. And I think one of the reasons why it is such a gut punch is because the brutal tragedy at the heart of story is contained in all this colourful, innocent Silver Age goofiness, like a hand grenade with a pink smiley face on it. It wouldn’t work a tenth as well if done in a moody, gritty “realistic” style.
The Night Gwen Stacey Died became an instant classic and to this day is usually considered the demarcation point between the Silver Age and the Bronze Age, a period marked by a more mature and literary style of comics that produced some of the greatest masterpieces in the genre. Unfortunately it also taught a generation of hacks that they could kill the hero’s girlfriend for some cheap drama and pathos. Nowadays, the phenomenon of female supporting characters being killed to provide motivation for the male lead is usually called “Women in Refrigerators”, a term coined by writer Gail Simone after a particularly notorious Green Lantern storyline, but before that it was called “Gwen Stacey Syndrome” because it was really this story that opened those floodgates. To be clear, this does not make The Night Gwen Stacey Died a bad story (or at least, I certainly don’t think it does). The problem is the raft of imitators who failed to realise that what made Gwen’s death so shocking and effective was that it was so rare. Hard as it might be to believe, prior to 1973 women almost never died in mainstream comics, and if they did (Batman’s mother for example) it was almost always off panel. So what does this have to do with The Killing Joke?
Well, The Killing Joke is a 1988 Batman story by Alan Moore with art by Brian Bolland, and since its release its been frequently lauded as one of the best Batman stories, the definitive Joker story and one of the greatest comics of all time. (thanks to Clifford who pointed out that I actually put it on my list of greatest comics which I had completely forgotten). However, it has also increasingly been viewed as being somewhat…problematic…
Why? Well, because in the course of this story the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon, paralysing her, (possibly) sexually assaults her and then shows her father pictures of it in an attempt to break him psychologically. Like Gwen Stacey, Barbara Gordon is brutally assaulted in order to advance the story of a male character, in this case her father and Batman. So there’s quite a bit of backlash against this book, with even Alan Moore himself effectively disowning it. Although honestly, take that with a grain of salt. Despite being the most influential writer in the history of the medium not named Lee, Siegel or Finger, Alan Moore basically now regards the entire comic book industry the way Captain McAllister views the sea.
My feelings? Well…I basically feel about The Killing Joke the way I feel about 99 Problems.
Is it misogynistic? Yes.
Noticeably so for its time and compared to the rest of its genre? Not really.
To the point where it obscures its artistic merits? No.
Of course, reading it now you have the benefit of knowing how the story ends. That Barbara Gordon was able to overcome this tragedy, and became Oracle, a wheel-chair bound superhero who became an inspiration to many disabled comic book fans and one of the most valued heroes not simply in the Bat family but in the DC universe as a whole.
Ultimately, despite the problematic…
…elements of the story I still think it deserves to be considered one of the all time great Batman yarns. And I was really pumped for this animated adaptation. Look at this line up! Bruce Timm, creator of the legendary Batman the Animated Series was producing, well-regarded Batman scribe Brian Azzaerello was writing the script and the voice cast was shit shot: Conroy! Tara Strong! MARK HAMILL COMING OUT OF RETIREMENT TO DO ALAN MOORE’S JOKER YE GODS!
But then early word had it that the animated adaptation would be greatly expanding Barbara’s role in the story and I was leery. I mean, on the one hand, it’s certainly a laudable impulse to want to address criticisms of the original by giving Barbara Gordon more agency and putting her experience front and centre. On the other hand, that is a radical change to the story. Put bluntly, The Killing Joke is not a Barbara Gordon story. Hell, it’s not even really a Batman story. It’s a story about the conflict between Moral Nihilism as represented by the Joker versus Ethical Objectivism personified by Jim Gordon. So my feeling was that if the creators doubted their source material to the point that they would make such a radical change, they probably shouldn’t be adapting it in the first place.
My worry was that we would get a more progressive, more enlightened, less problematic version of The Killing Joke but probably not a better one.
Oh, oh, oh…
I wish that was what we got.
Hey all, my short play “If you are Dissatisfied with your Apocalypse…” is now up on YouTube starring the awesome Paul Nugent and Kate Grimes.
You can also watch the other seven plays HERE.
As promised, here’s the list of upcoming reviews in alphabetical order. If you don’t see something you requested, or if you’ve already contributed via Patreon and didn’t get a chance to request, leave me a comment and I’ll stick it on. I…may be doing this a while.
|A Monster In Paris|
|A Series of Unfortunate Events|
|Aladdin the Series|
|Alice in Wonderland (the Disney live action one)|
|Ang Lee’s Hulk|
Batman: The Killing Joke
|Bats vers Bolts: I, Frankenstein versus Dracula Untold|
|Bats versus Bolts: Nosferatu versus Frankenstein|
|Bolts versus Bats: Andy Warhol|
Daria: Episode 1
|Episode 4 of Death Parade|
|Episode six of Flip Flappers.|
|Evangelion: You are (Not) Alone|
|Felix the Cat|
Freddie as F.R.O.7
|Hercules and Xena the Animated Movie|
|Inherit the Wind|
|Into the Woods|
Joseph: King of Dreams
|Judgement at Nuremberg|
|Kung Fu Panda 2|
|Little Mermaid the Series|
|Lu Over the Wall|
|Metropolis (Osamu Tezuka)|
|Moomins on the Riviera|
|My Hero Academia: First 4 Episodes|
|Night of the Hunter
Once Upon A Time: Episodes 1 and 3
|Over the Garden Wall|
|Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure|
|Return to Oz|
|Rock and Rule|
|Romeo and Juliet Sealed with a Kiss
Sailor Moon R: The Movie
|Something Eastern European|
|Superman Versus the Elite|
|Tangled the Series|
|The Dark Crystal|
|The Fantastic Adventures of Unico|
|The Good Dinosaur|
|The Land Before Time|
|The Land Before Time 13|
|The Polar Express|
|The Quiet Man|
|The Swan Princess|
|The Third Man|
|V for Vendetta|
Hi everyone. When I made my big end of year humblebrag a while back there was actually another bit of news that I couldn’t tell you because negotiations were still ongoing. So here it is.
I’ve been signed by TOR for a two book deal.
One of the largest publishers of science fiction in the world offered to publish my novel When the Sparrow Falls (until recently called The Caspian Sea) for summer 2021 with a second book for publication in summer 2022 and I said “Yes. I find this agreeable.”
This deal will be for North America and most of the world. For the non-American Anglosphere, the book will be published by Rebellion, the UK publisher of Judge Dredd.
How’s you’re day going?
So, obviously this means I’m going to be spending a lot of time on edits and writing book #2 over the next three years as well as my usual work commitments.
Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Guys I hate to say it but it looks like I might have to shutter the blog…
Okay. EVERYBODY CHILL! HERE is what I’m going to do:
So I’ve put a pause on the Patreon and any patrons are not getting charged for June. Starting now I won’t be taking any more review requests because I already have a massive backlog. If you’re waiting for a review it WILL be done, but it’ll take time and with one book to be edited and a second one to be written over the next two years I will be shifting to a new schedule which means I simply can’t take any more reviews on.
SO. If you’re a $5 or a $10 Patron now would probably be a good time to cancel your pledge as I’m afraid I won’t be able to fulfill any new review requests.
After the conclusion of the Endgame review the blog will be shifting to an alternating monthly/bi-monthly schedule. As in, one month there’ll be one review, the next there will be two and then one again. I’m hoping this will just be temporary. I’m planning on taking a leave of absence from work later in the year to focus on being a full time writer and…wow I just wrote that. Really happening. Sorry, back on track. As I say, I will hopefully be shifting back to a twice monthly schedule in the Autumn but that will obviously depend on deadlines, workloads etc. etc.
Over the next few days I’ll be posting the complete list of scheduled, requested reviews. If you’ve requested a review that you don’t see listed leave me a comment and I’ll add it in. The reviews WILL be done, I promise.
Thank you all
Guys, some of you have been with this blog since the days when I didn’t even know how to properly crop an image. I would not be the writer I eventually became without your support. It’s been a crazy, wonderful eight years. Thank you all so much. Virtual group hug. Bring it in.
A belated (isn’t it always?) thanks and welcome to new patron Calvin van den Elzen, a Dutch grand master famous for his hyper-realistic landscapes. Unfortunately, he devoted his talents almost exclusively to portraits of ducks, at which he was competent.
Heeeeeeeeeey so things have been a little more immediately apocalyptic around here than usual, huh?
Hope you all are staying safe and indoors. For obvious reasons, this review is going to be on the short side.
Anyway, this is going to be less of a plot point by plot point recap and more…a sort of…movie review if you can imagine such a thing.