I have read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland more times than I can count – I have a pocket-sized version for my purse and a collection of Alice-themed decorations for my study. My fascination with this text also creates a sometimes uncontrollable desire to seek out all of the riffs and re-imaginings there are of Alice. Of course, they range in quality and substance. There are the good (Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, Jan Svankmajer’s Alice), the mediocre but occasionally insightful or creative (Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, the Sy-Fy mini-series Alice), and the bad (Disney’s animated Alice in Wonderland). It was this unstoppable curiosity that caused me to read Wonderland: Asylum. I now regret that choice. I found it derivative in the most lazy and uninspired of ways, misogynistic, and exploitative.
Wonderland: Asylum works like those Alice in Wonderland t-shirts sold in head shops. It diminishes the source material to the most shallow of meanings. But rather than focus on the supposedly mind-altering drugs of Carroll’s novel, it focuses on the madness. Certainly, that’s there in Carroll’s novel. And some of it is true crazy – the March Hare’s crazy comes from his spring rutting nature; the Mad Hatter’s from the mercury that used to cure hats. But there’s plenty of other “madness” that’s based in math, logic, and other historical elements: events, figures, and educational methods and means. Heck, there’s even some throw away psychotic violence in the Queen of Hearts’ repeated (but never executed) orders of beheading. BUT. That’s merely one level of the text. And to enlarge it so grossly is an insult to anyone who actually values Carroll’s Wonderland novels.
But even if we pardon Wonderland: Asylum for turning up the madness theme to 11, there’s still the problem that it is being completely uncreative and derivative in doing so. Wonderland: Asylum takes many of its ideas from American McGee’s Alice, stripping away the unique artistic vision of the video game and replacing it with a dominatrix-costumed heroine, forced into sexual submission by a guy who appears to her as James Franco (though even that absurd cameo joke is shallow) and frequently drawn as some pinup. Furthermore, the shallow sexual exploitation is paralleled with a story-line that’s some cross between Silence of the Lambs and Se7en – a tour of ever-increasingly grotesque and revolting criminal psychotics.
It is the crappy, misogynistic, and exploitative comic book that allows non-comic readers to easily dismiss comics as trash literature.