This series is one of a few literary adaptations Eisner's penned in recent years, and this story seems the least suited to the artist's urban style. The Sundiata legend is a hero/nation-building myth, an adaptation of the African legend of Sundiata, in which a Malian child-prince, born crippled, liberates his people from Sumanguru, the evil King of the rival Sosso people. Eisner's version of the tale begins with an explanation of the Great Grey Rock, a magical stone which gives Sumanguru mighty evil powers. Sumanguru discards the stone after tapping its powers, an act he will regret. Eventually Sumanguru comes to the land of Mali and defeats Sundiata's father. When Sundiata finally confronts Sumanguru, he is saved from defeat by the deviously magical Rock, which removes Sumanguru's evil powers at a crucial moment. Sundiata then rules gently over his newly free and prosperous Mali. While these events unfold clearly enough, there is nary an ounce of drama in the book. Eisner's artwork, once supple and expressive, has deteriorated into a scratchy, by-the-numbers affair. On firm territory when he creates urban stories, in this work he seems lost in the wilderness. Eisner is one of the great masters of comics storytelling, but his recent works continue to suffer from stereotype and melodrama. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Gr 3-5-Though the figures in this freely retold comic-book version of the legend are charged with melodrama, veteran graphic novelist Eisner has inexplicably chosen to color them in drab ocher and gray. Narrated by the Rock of Evil, a head-shaped boulder with faint African features, the tale actually centers around the rise and fall of Sumanguru, a leering, brutal magician-king who conquers the peaceful land of Mali, but then makes the mistake of letting the last survivor of its royal family, the lame child Sundiata, live. Sundiata grows from naked (sexless) boy to strong manhood in two pages, learns the art of war and gathers an army in two more, then marches on Sumanguru for a climactic seven-page battle that ends when the tyrant vanishes into a cave. Sundiata goes on to become a beloved, long-lived king. Confusingly, the lithic narrator seems to have a change of heart, and closes its tale with a benevolent smile. Though Eisner depicts strong emotions and larger-than-life characters masterfully, this sketchy account of the great Malinke ruler is unlikely to make as lasting an impression on readers as David Wisniewski's Sundiata: Lion King of Mali (Clarion, 1999).-John Peters, New York Public Library Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.