Page 45 Review by Tom
Of course it starts as any really awesome adventure does, with a map and a legend, but from then on WALKER BEAN astounds with an unpredictable vitality rarely experienced let alone bound in a book. Jeff Smith's BONE condensed that feeling, as does Kazu Kibuishi with AMULET, and I love those series but neither compress so much action, mystery and life into any one of their books as Aaron does in Walker Bean's odyssey.
It seemed like only yesterday that Walker's Grandpa put him to bed with incredible stories of Merwitches, Atlantean sailors and briny graves. Now Walker sits at his sick Grandpa's bedside, and if half of what he says is true then the stories that used to keep Walker awake long at night might be what keep him out of a watery grave.
In a sack at home is irrefutable proof that the legend of Atlantis and its downfall at the claws of two sinister Merwitches is all true, for in that sack is a huge pearl in the shape of a skull that bestows infinite knowledge for anyone with thick enough blood. And, as Grandpa Bean found out, anyone who stares at it soon dies cursed by the knowledge that the pearl's monstrous owners are hunting them down. The only cure is to return the terrible thing. Walker's father, a Naval Captain, is less convinced by the skull's power, but sure of its wealth. He finds a possible buyer through the creepy Doctor Patches, and together they plot to sail north and meet the Doctor's benefactor. But Walker has other ideas. On the lam with the skull in tow, Walker (who initially is something of a milksop) has to evade every pirate, brigand, and even Captain Bean, his own greedy father, to deliver the skull pearl back to the watery prison in the Mango Island trench. But things go from bad to worse to catastrophic before he even gets to the sea! First he's robbed by a funny-looking, pointy-eared girl then he's captured by his father and the weird Doctor Patches, before Captain Bean's ship is blown up by pirates and Walker, presumed dead, becomes a stowaway on the pirate ship.
And that's only a very brief summary of the first thirty-five pages! Poor Walker, although he clearly hasn't much in the wits department yet, a rather special box his Grandpa bestowed upon him before he left port makes up for it, and he has another 160 pages to get it together.
After decades of playing this kind of adventure in computer games the thought of ever finding one as immersive as the many outings of LEGEND OF ZELDA or as hilarious and clever as MONKEY ISLAND became unlikely, but the world Aaron's created here is so watertight you'd think he inked it with tar! It's an intensely detailed world. Even bit-characters are given unique motivation and history. Fanciful inventions play a huge role in the story as Walker in a pure A-Team moment combines a Steamer and a Galleon to create a walking land ship Hayao Miyazaki would be impressed by. And in order to create such brilliant things Aaron's clearly thought long and hard about how this world works: the Pirate ship itself is a microcosmic society wherein each crew member has a role, whether it be agitator or footstool. The complexity of Walker's relationship with his father and in turn his grandpa is as sticky and conflicted as anything Philip Pullman created for His Dark Materials, while the subtle clues he drops into the art beg to be interacted with. Throughout the book appear rune-like glyphs, and along his travels Walker finds the means and the help to decipher them, and by proxy so do you.
Hoards of sinister manipulators do nothing to reduce the impact of seeing the almost Harryhausen-esque, 100-foot Merwitches rising from the waves, but it's the flickering shadows in the creaky bowels of the nautical vessels which really set the tone for this accomplished adventure which rewards with each reread.