I still can remember playing the original Prince of Persia video game. It was a fairly straightforward side-scrolling action-adventure, but it stood out from the pack for two reasons: first, the movement of the characters was so fluid -- it felt like you were moving an acrobat around the screen; and second, the ancient Persian setting was unique and enchanting. The more recent Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time game managed a similar achievement, albeit with better graphics and a third dimension. Both versions were downright fun.
Now the game's creator, Jordan Mechner, has produced a Prince of Persia graphic novel to coincide with the upcoming movie version and relaunch of the video game. And behold: the comic book succeeds for the same reasons that the video games did, which is no small feat.
The book is not a simple action-adventure, however, but instead tells two intertwining stories of love, death, betrayal, and fate, both set in the fictional land of Marv. One story takes place during the ninth century A.D., and follows the exploits of Prince Guiv, who leaves his sister and brother as Marv's rulers after he has a vision of the future. The other story takes place during the thirteenth century, and concerns itself with Shirin, the daughter of Marv's ruler, who sneaks out of the city and meets a young man who tends to the city's water system. The two storylines are connected by a mysterious prophecy involving rebellion.
Mechner and his co-writer, A.B. Sina, seem more concerned with creating an epic legend than with swash-buckling, and that is refreshing. They do a tremendous job building this small world and evoking the flavors of ancient Persia. And that is not to say that the book is dull or slow-moving. On the contrary, the action seamlessly flows back and forth between the tales, and the pacing is breathless.
LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland provide the art. Pham has illustrated a number of children's books (sample titles: Whose Toes are Those? and Whose Knees are These?), and I think the character and background designs benefit from that experience -- this is an excellent piece of cartooning. And the artists do a very good job with the characters' "acting"; their facial expressions are spot on:
Puvilland previously worked as a layout artist on the DreamWorks films Prince of Egypt, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and The Road to El Dorado. In animation, a layout artist is like a cinematographer and helps to decide where the characters and camera are placed and how they move through the space. Based on his background, I would credit Puvilland for the clear storytelling and terrific pacing (just like the video games!):
None of the creators involved has published a comic book before, but you wouldn't know it from this. It is a well-crafted piece of comic book mythmaking and will appeal to adults and teenagers. I think that teenage boys and girls both will enjoy this story, as it has strong and well-developed male and female leads, along with solid action, romance, and mystery. (And skeletons!)
I recommend this book. The story is engaging, the characters intriguing, and the art first-rate.
Prince of Persia is 190 pages, with additional backmatter. It is published by First Second and will be available on September 2, 2008. You can read an excerpt here, watch a trailer here, and order the book here.
By the way, Jordan Mechner's first game was Karateka, which I played on the computer at my elementary school -- it was SWEET!
Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.