The story behind Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird is every bit as interesting (if not a wee bit more) than the comic itself. When Disney famously bought Marvel, there was huge debate about what it would mean for the content of the comics, particularly Marvel’s superhero universe. The quality didn’t end up changing, and the folks that were afraid Marvel would, under Disney’s ownership, steer clear of violent storylines were quickly proven wrong. It’s hard to truly analyze the changes, surface or pervasive, that Disney made to Marvel’s slate, so I was interested to read the way that this book, which slipped under my radar when it was first published in early 2014, came to fruition.
The back matter tells the story of Joe Quesada, COO of Marvel, meeting with Disney Imagineers to figure out stories they could tell about Disney attractions. The Museum of the Weird is the focus of this story, and the coolest thing about the book is that the Museum never opened. Rolly Crump, Imagineer extraordinare, designed the attraction, which was meant to house “a collection of creepy curiosities unearthed from around the globe.” Walt Disney’s death lead to the designs being shelved, but whisperings of what could have been elevated the canceled Museum of the Weird to legendary status. So what better attraction to explore in the wonderful world of comics than the proverbial one that got away?
The creative team is comprised of folks I’m mostly unfamiliar with, though there’s one big exception that I was really jazzed about. Brandon Seifert (Image’s Witch Doctor) is the writer, with Rick Magyar on inks, Jean-Francois Beaulieu on colors, and VC’s Joe Caramanga lettering. The team does solid work through, but the reason I loved reading Seekers is almost all thanks to one man: Karl Moline, who is the penciller. I became a huge fan of his because of his tremendous work on Joss Whedon’s Fray, as well as some guest stints on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight, where he turned in far and away the best interior art of that series. He’s stylized, kinetic, and he’s got a killer sense of creature design, which made the world of Fray bright and immersive. He brings that same design here, to the weird world of Disney’s lost attraction.
The story itself is somewhat familiar… until, about halfway through, it goes crazy on us. The leads are Maxwell and Melody, a brother and sister duo who are good buds except for the fact that they don’t much relate to one another. Max is a big reader, and he’s always quoting a favorite story of his or dropping a reference that Melody, as a jock, doesn’t quite get. I like that they’re close, and that their differences, which do feel like they’re archetypes that have been done very often, make them appreciate each other rather than drive them apart. The first few scenes have them working at their parents’ shop, a non-descript store called Keep it Weird that sells… well, a bunch of weird stuff.
It’s almost a shame that the book takes such a dramatic turn for the wild so quickly, because while there’s really nothing new about the day-to-day lives of Max and Mel, the narrative takes a left turn so abruptly that there’s not much room to breathe or get a firm grasp of the characters outside of their reactions to what’s happening to them. What’s happening to them, however, is a visual treat. They wake up in the middle of the night to find their parents using a magical camera and an umbrella with zappy powers to fend off bewitched hybrid taxidermy animals.
Yep. The Weird part of the title is very quickly justified.
Their parents are taken away in an intricate action scene, leaving Max and Mel at the mercy of a walking candle that forms a fiery blue woman. Before the fire lady can get the kids too, their mysterious Uncle Roland comes to the rescue and helps them use (admittedly random) keys that they’ve had for about a year to open a secret door in their parents’ study.
They go into the “safety” (it’s very clearly super not safe) secret room, which is very much like what I believe, based on the background info, would have been the Museum of Secrets itself. Roland abandons them to go on a quest, they quickly and predictably get in trouble. What I did not see coming was that Roland returns with no legs and dies, leaving them helpless and with the task of saving their parents and figuring out what’s going on.
So, yeah. The book is really weird. The characters are likeable, the design is incredibly inventive, the overall idea is great, but the pacing itself is break-neck… to a fault. It feels very much like an amusement park attraction, shooting the characters and the readers from one visually stimulating situation to another, but we’re moving on hyper-drive here without any real chance to digest what’s happening in the moment. And I do think that’s partially the point, but there was more than one more where I wanted to pump the breaks, slow down, and explore the dazzling world that the creative team has built.
Overall, it’s a solid comic book that captures an imagination so wild that it can’t quite seem to settle down and tell its story. With so much having happened in the first issue, I’d gladly recommend it even with its flaws, because the direction it’s taken can only lead to more gleeful insanity. All in all it was, quite appropriately, a fun ride.
PAT SHAND is a comic book writer (Robyn Hood, Charmed: Season Ten, Grimm Fairy Tales) and pop culture journalist (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). He has never been to Disneyland, which is a childhood injustice that will soon be amended.