Monday, January 2, 2017

Book Review: The Eternal Smile by G. L. Yang and D. K. Kim

The Eternal Smile text by Gene Luen Yang and illustrations by Derek Kirk Kim

This volume contains three stories that have the odd combination of fantastic and mundane that Rod Serling so effortlessly delivered in his series The Twilight Zone.

The first story is "Duncan's Kingdom." Duncan is a young knight in love with the princess. The king is killed by the Frog King and the princess says whoever kills the murderer will marry her. So Duncan has lots of competition. Something odd is going on, because he has a dark secret and keeps running across an anachronistic bottle of soda. Duncan has a love for truth that, like love, conquers all. The twist at the end is bittersweet and psychologically satisfying, a rare thing for a comic book to have.

The second story is "Gran'pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile." Greenbax is an avaricious frog. His great ambition is to fill a pool so deeply with money that he won't bang his head on the bottom. He has various money-making schemes run by an unfortunate flunkie. The flunkie has one last scheme that should put Gran'pa over the top--a smile has appeared in the sky and has given the flunkie consolation in times of self-doubt and sorrow. Greenbax is at first upset but quickly realizes he can set up a Church of the Eternal Smile to cash in on the phenomenon. This story also ends with a big twist, giving Greenbax a Scrooge-like conversion that is wordlessly touching.

The third story is "Urgent Request." Janet Oh is an administrative assistant at a tech company longing for something more in her life. She asks for a promotion and is turned down. Her mousy qualities lead her down the path of financing one of those Nigerian princes who email looking for money. A really awkward and heart-breaking story manages to achieve an uplifting ending with yet another big twist at the end.

The clearest parallel in these stories to Serling's work is the twist ending that brings the narrative into perspective. The tales are unusual enough that the endings aren't immediately obvious. When the endings come, they are natural and bring thematic focus and dramatic closure. I enjoyed this collection very much.

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