You've heard of the story of Aladdin, but never like this.
Radical Comics' is taking the legend of Ala ad-Din – better known as Aladdin – to a whole new level. In the upcoming miniseries Aladdin, writer Ian Edginton and artists Patrick Reilly and Stjepan Sejic take the story of a street-dwelling thief to a deeper and darker place than he's ever been before.
This ain't Disney.
In this new take on the legend of Aladdin, the titular character is a thief, gambler, liar and cheat. Wasting away recklessly, he's easy pray for a mage known as Qassim who wants his blood to finish an ancient rite to attain the power of the mystical Djinn who resides in a magic lamp. Aladdin knows nothing of his blood's power or the birthright it gives him, and he's got the short end of the stick if he hopes to resist Qassim and find out the truth.
Aladdin is the latest in a series of fully painted miniseries put out by Radical, and we talked with series writer Ian Edginton about the book which is scheduled to debut in early 2010.
Newsarama: How would you describe Aladdin, Ian?
Ian Edginton: It’s unashamedly sword and sorcery. It’s a gritty, dirty, bloody, fantasy epic. The original, Middle-Eastern folk tale has been adapted and interpreted scores of different ways over the years, from the Disney animated movie, to various flesh and blood versions and not forgetting that great British stage staple – the pantomime. While there have been some good live action versions - my favorite is the Arabian Nights mini-series by Hallmark that struck true-ish to the original story by portraying Aladdin as a young Chinese vagabond – I wanted to keep my version grounded in the real world, or as much as it’s internal logic would allow.
I’ve tried to give it a Lord of the Rings flavor. So, yes there are all the classic fantasy elements such as the evil sorcerer and the djinn’s of the ring and the lamp but they also, all have to work in the real-world context of the story. So, for example, while the Djinn will do your bidding and give you three wishes. It’s also a monstrous and terrible creature of fierce free will, said to be made of ‘smokeless fire’. It’s constantly looking for a way to trip you up with your own wishes. It’s like having a Panther for a pet and walking it around on a leash, one day, when your guard’s down, it’ll turn on you and tear your arm off!
Nrama: When I think Aladdin, I can’t get the Disney movie out of my head. Set me straight – who is Aladdin here?
Edginton: He’s a thief, a gambler, a con’ artist. He uses his keen wits, good looks and charming disposition to get what he wants but the truth is he doesn’t know really what that is. He’s empty inside but thinks that women and wine and riches will fill that void but it’s not working. He’s becoming more cold, callous and manipulative the older he gets.
His pregnant mother was found dying in the street and taken in my the madam of the local brothel. When she died, he was raised by the madam and her girls, so he has this insight into the minds of women and a grim view of the vices of men. As he gets older he plays both to his advantage, winning over and exploiting women with his charm, and conning men by appealing to their greed. However, life on the streets of the vast, sprawling city of Shambhalla is hard and for all his bravado, Aladdin isn’t cut out for it. He’s in danger of being eaten alive by the place. What he doesn’t know is that he has a destiny, a heritage that quite literally flows in his veins. He’s helped to an extent by Captain Sinbad but even he’s a shadow of his former self. and has sort of lost his way. He’s not ancient but he’s no spring chicken either, he’s burdened by the thought of all the men he’s lost on those famous adventures of his. Everyone of them someone’s father or brother or son. They leave that part out of the stories. So Aladdin and Sinbad are both looking for ways out of the holes they’re in, even if they don’t realize it at first.
Nrama: In this book he’s up against the sorcerer Qassim. What’s he about, and what are they fighting over?
Edginton: Ah, I’ve got to be careful here as I don’t want to give to much away! I stick to the folk tale, in that he wants Aladdin to fetch the lamp for him but what we also discover is exactly why Qassim can’t get the lamp for himself and what it is about Aladdin that enables him to do so. He knows about Aladdin’s true background and all it entails. I don’t want to go into great detail here but let’s just say Qassim isn’t quite the pantomime villain he’s usually portrayed as. His need for the lamp isn’t his ultimate goal but he needs the lamp to achieve it. His plan has been centuries in the making and he isn’t prepared to let anyone or anything get in the way.
Nrama: What can you tell us about Aladdin’s city, Shambhalla?
Edginton: Shambhalla is like an ancient world’s version of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles.
Nrama: That's a nice visual...
Edginton: It’s a vast, sprawling place, full or horrors and wonders and that’s only on the surface. Far below its streets lies the underworld domain of the Mantis Queen and she is someone who you really don’t want to mess with but of course Aladdin does!
Nrama: What kind of research did you do for this miniseries?
Edginton: I re-read the original story and some of the background to it. I went back and watched some of my favorite fantasy films such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Sword and the Sorcerer (so bad it’s brilliant), The Thief of Baghdad, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, that sort of thing. I didn’t go as far as Krull and Hawk the Slayer though!
Nrama: And finally, what led you to doing this book, Ian?
Edginton: I think it was the chance to put a different slant on the character. I always thought that if you were growing up rough on the streets in a Middle Eastern city at that time, life wouldn’t exactly be a bowl of cherries. You wouldn’t be so happy-go-lucky and bursting into song if you didn’t know where your next meal was coming from and that the people you’d just conned were anxious to stick a knife between your ribs. It was also a great opportunity to write a sword and sorcery story. It doesn’t happen very often and especially where the main character isn’t a rippling muscled, sword wielding warrior type. It was a welcome chance to dust off some storybook characters like Aladdin and Sinbad and give them back their edge. They’re great characters with huge potential that have just labored in limbo for far too long. They’re crying out for a Pirates of the Caribbean style makeover!