The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm a huge fan of the game "Capture the Flag". I played a few times as a young man, but as an adult, I've become an aficionado. This is the result of several campouts as a leader of youth through BSA or being the leader of my church's youth group. I've played it dozens of times in a wide variety of areas. There's something thrilling about this game, especially if it's played over a wide expanse of forest. One tactic that I've used successfully involves teasing out the opposing players and noting their limits. While they might send out a couple of runners to go after your flag, chances are that there are at least a few of the opposing team who will stay close, but not too close, to their flag, tied by an invisible tether to its location. Once you work around and "pull" the opposing players out as far as they're willing to go, you can determine the whereabouts of their flag. You "pull" by intentionally exposing your position without being caught. The key is dropping hints that you are around, but not directly showing yourself. Rocks and sticks are best for this, if you have a good throwing arm. Or shaking a tree when you are certain you are out of the opposing team's direct line of sight tends to draw their attention. Throughout the course of several games, however, there will be times when you are seen and may be caught in the very act of deception. Sometimes you can still salvage the game, but you usually have to pull back and start approaching the enemy from a different angle. Once your cover is blown, your entire plan of attack can be ruined.
And this speaks to my only strong complaint about "The Lost Boy," by Greg Ruth. The artwork is amazing, the plot is stronger than many I've seen in graphic novels, and the characterization, for the most part, is good to great (more on that later). My biggest problem with the book is that Ruth plays his hand a little too strongly in a couple of places. Had he done so only once, I think this would be a strong contender for a five-star rating. But the mistake is made in a couple of places: foreshadowing becomes over-exposure, and the reader can easily guess key elements of how this is going to end up. Too easily. Toning down the foreshadowing would have done a great deal to push this graphic novel to near-perfection.
Back in the 1950s, a boy, Walt, disappears from a small town. In the present day, another boy, Nate, discovers an old tape player under the floorboards of his bedroom after he moves with his family into town. Nate listens to the tapes, which are narrated by Walt, so many decades ago, and begins to discover that Walt had learned of a fae world beyond the mundane in which dog-riding crickets and talking dolls are the norm. Nate's neighbor, Tabitha, seems to know something about this world, as well. The two of them team up to solve the mystery of where Walt disappeared and find themselves embroiled in events that will have consequences for far more than them or the small town in which they live. As the story progresses, we are introduced to more and more characters and slowly, a picture emerges of several factions vying for control of The Key, which will assure dominance in both the fae world and in the mundane world. Ruth does a masterful job of slowly introducing the different character's motives and intentions, but, in doing so, lets foreshadowing show a bit too much about future plot twists. In fact, what should have been a major plot twist is telegraphed far too plainly (and too early) by a conversation between the talking doll Tom Button and Haloran, an older man who serves as Walt's, then Nate and Tabitha's, guide to the other world.
All of the characters are strong and unique. None of them "bleed" into the others, as I've seen in too many graphic novels. I found the characters of Walt, Tabitha, and Baron Tick to be the most compelling and interesting. My one complaint is with Haloran, who becomes a sort of flawed messiah figure who knows his place in the worlds, but is not always sure how to act in them. While interesting, I felt that Haloran was flat, maybe a bit rushed. There are some deep, poignant moments, but the long stretches of silence, which were probably meant to imply an aloof wisdom, end up reading as a simple omission on the part of the writer.
Besides its flaws, "The Lost Boy" is a graphic novel that deserves your attention. It's not perfect, but it might have been. And the ending leaves the door open for possible future volumes, which I will watch for with keen interest.
It was a close game, this time. Maybe next time, Ruth will lure me out enough to sneak up, then rush in to capture the flag.
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