The Night Marchers and Other Oceanian Tales is the fourth installment in Iron Circus Comics' geographically specific Cautionary Fables & Fairytales series: African tales in The Girl Who Married a Skull, Asian stories in Tamamo the Fox Maiden and European fare in The Nixie of the Mill-Pond. Volume four turns to the Pacific Islands of the Philippines, Hawaii and Fiji to lure, warn, frighten and entertain middle-grade readers. Kate Ashwin and Kel McDonald, who edited the previous three titles, are joined here by cartoonist/author Sloane Leong.
As can happen with any collection, the narrative and graphic quality varies through the compilation's 16 tales. Among the most artistically satisfying is "The Ibalon Epic: A Retelling of Baltog" by Mark Gould, about a renowned warrior who dreams of being a peaceful farmer despite being known as "Baltog the brave... Baltog the strong... Baltog the unrelenting." Gould's exquisitely detailed panels are presented in various sizes and shapes and, as they overlap and overflow, they mirror his character's determination to break through his physical and theoretical borders. Haunting defines the titular "The Night Marchers," an atmospheric Hawaiian tale in which a girl disobeys her mother to risk a final glance at her dead father. Artist Jonah Cabudol-Chalker affectingly manifests the defiance in Kate Ashwin's writing with irregular panels, words beyond borders and images spilling off the page.
Despite the uneven presentation, this majority #OwnVoices offering is an intriguing portal to folklore, ferrying readers beyond more familiar Western myths and tales. These diverse adaptations and imaginative reinterpretations present spirit interactions, unexpected bonds, timeless life lessons and somber reminders of mortality. While the intended audience is middle-grade, older teens (and even adults) will discover potent storytelling here. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon