The Prince of Persia made his first appearance in a video game. This, a comic book foray for the character, adds to the mythology. Using the mythic form of story telling is where this text is at is strongest.
It is a framed story in many ways, though it is probably most appropriate to think of it as a parallel story. There are two main timelines, the first in the 9th century and the second in the 13th century. The first effects the second, though not in an obvious way at the outset.
In the first, the current ruler of the land is dying and his two children, Prince Guiv and Princess Guilan grow up with another royal boy – Layth. On his deathbed he designates Guiv as his heir. Unfortunately Guiv is forced to abdicate his throne to Layth in order to keep the peace. After Layth and Guilan (willingly) marry, Guiv leaves and heads up a hill with the peacock (strange I know). It’s at this point when fantasy starts mixing with reality in unbalanced doses.
With the second story, we focus on the princess Shirin right before she cuts her hair and starts on an adventure. The formerly lush kingdom (in the 9th century) has been reduced to severe water rationing (in the 13th century). She makes her way to a clandestine meeting (disguised as a boy) but loses her necklace in a water well when she thinks she sees a ghost like face. When she returns to the well to retrieve the lost necklace she is once again disturbed by a face in the well and loses her balance and falls in. After she wakes up she finds she is being cared for by Ferdos (the ghostly face). Quickly after this point, Ferdos tells Shirin about the 9th Century, they make love, and we the reader are connected with the previous timeline. Then, fantasy starts mixing with reality in unbalanced doses.
The thing is, it takes the reader awhile to figure out what exactly is going on in this story. The effect is to add to the layers of mythology around the totemic prince. It also makes the tale difficult to follow. This narrative introduces symbols to stand in for, or otherwise buttress, plot elements. Some examples of these symbols are: the peacock, lions, dichromatic eyes, skulls, bones, the list goes on. These symbols have the effect of adding to the mythology while subtracting from the clarity of the story.
Artistically, the focus on mythology leads to some excellent panels. The artists on this story are allowed to follow the dreams and mythic creatures where it takes them. It results in some inspired work. These characters and the creations that appear in this book are at times horrific (numerous beheadings and gutted corpses) and at other times beautiful (The Peacock, Shirin, and Ferdos). Of particular note are the (fully nude and fully creepy) dream dust babies that rise out of the desert and haunt Shirin.
Shirin is an example of how the art and color of this story really shine. The character designs are top notch. When Shirin cuts off her hair, it is apparent why she could be mistaken for a boy rather than a princess. This is due to the thoughtful character design, in other words, she has an androgynous face. We are able to see both femininity and masculinity in her character lines.
Shirin may be the most fleshed out character, she is certainly one of the most likable. Indeed, all of the “main” characters are young or youthful and it is easy to root for them. Thus, while ultimately this title would most appeal to adults, it should have some amount of older teen appeal.
Prince of Persia
by Jordan Mechner, A.B. Sina
Art by LeUyen Pham, Alex Puvilland
First Second, 2009