Robot 6

‘Alice and the Nightmare': Follow the brown rabbit

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It seems like alternate versions of Alice in Wonderland will be created until the heat death of the universe. Ever since Lewis Carroll wrote the story of a little girl who follows a jittery white rabbit down a hole, it seems as if everybody wants to put their unique stamp on her sometimes-haunting adventures.

Director Tim Burton, for example, turned Wonderland — sorry, Underland — into an epic battlefield where rival queens commanded armies as vast as the ones found in The Lord of the Rings. The Jabberwocky, originally just a character in a nonsense poem (and imaginatively illustrated by John Tenniel), is upgraded to boss battle status that must be defeated with the legendary vorpal blade. Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars novels (which had spun off a comic called Hatter M) sees Alice — I’m sorry, Alyss — as a princess of Wonderland who’s a fierce warrior in combat. Alice has been upgraded from wide-eyed little girl to a vengeful Valkyrie.

A large amount of Alice adaptations, however, seem to think the poor girl has been suffering a mental illness of sorts. After all, someone with such a fertile imagination must be crazy! This conceit is quite likely bolstered by one of the fact that one of the novel’s most prominent characters is the Mad Hatter, whose logical mind twisters can conceivably drive one to insanity. When creating his Goth version of Alice, American McGee began his video game in — where else? — an insane asylum. He wasn’t the only one. One of the most recent adaptations is ABC’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, which starts with doctors deeming Alice  insane. It seems people take things rather badly when you start telling stories about disappearing cats, and caterpillars who smoke hookahs.

Aspects of these alternate versions of Alice also show up in Michelle “Misha” Krivanek’s webcomic Alice and the Nightmare. There is no division here between Alice’s home life and Wonderland, however; they’re one and the same. Similar to how Burton hitched his movie to Tolkien, Krivanek appears another popular fantasy series as a template: Harry Potter. The comic begins with Alice taking a special train to Hogwa- … er, a summer internship. We learn there’s a caste system involved as well, with people being Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs or Spades. What’s more, there seems to be considerable friction between the groups. Alice, incidentally, is a Heart, which gives here quite the choice status: She’s related to the Queen.

There are also a bunch of half-animal, half-human beings as well. Alice runs into a girl with rabbit features — brown, not white, though — who’s being pushed around by one of the higher-class folks. This is when we encounter Alice’s other popular trait: that she’s perhaps quite mad. Whenever Alice gets her social justice on, she throws a loud tantrum that frightens all the people around her. When she snaps out of it, however, Alice doesn’t remember how it happened.

I do have some qualms with the webcomic. The people Alice rescues are generally one-dimensional artsy types who are stereotypically spineless. (Do they end up sullenly picking up papers that have been cruelly knocked from their hands? Yes, they do.) The bullies, meanwhile, might as well have little mustaches to twirl. Alice can be pretty insufferable in both modes. She’s too preternaturally sweet when she’s nice, and too unpleasant when she’s righteous.

However, I think it’s a realistic metaphor about what it means to grow up. It’s a portrayal of the idealism of youth before the cynicism sets in. How are you supposed to act when you know that something’s wrong, but you have no idea how society works or what you have to do to get any change done? When the patient approach fails, how can you help but lash out? After all, throwing a fit seems to get results … even if it’s also quite efficient at creating a few enemies.

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