“It’s just a hat.” Garmadon is being visited in his dreams by his estranged brother, Wu. If Garmadon’s path had not been inextricably entangled with The Great Devourer, turning him into the ocre-skinned undead oni, perhaps there would be a resemblance between the two. Dream-Wu snatches Garmadon’s ornate helmet from his hands. “Wow, this thing is heavy,” he notes, tossing the ruthless conqueror’s helm off the cliff. As Garmadon — eyes ablaze — spits vengeance, Wu scoffs, “Oh, enough with the theatrics. It’s just a hat.” That is the potentiality LEGO represents — that anything has the innate opportunity to be anything. Deep down inside, we are all just the most basic of mini-figs with yellow heads, enigmatic smiles, and lowercase c’s for hands. Changing our narrative is as easy as a few clicks. New hat, new destiny.
When I picked up LEGO NINJAGO – Garmadon, I was skeptical – not about the book, but about myself. Did I have room in my heart for yet another realm? Did I have space in my mental lexicon of imaginary jargon for ‘spinjitzu’? As I poured over the first two pages, where Tri Vuong hastily tries to catch me up on LEGO NINJAGO lore — the first Spinjitzu master had two sons, Garmadon and Wu, but through the interference of the Great Devourer they became a house divided — I worried that it was not in my capacity to care. When I got the LEGO pirate set in the ’80s, I didn’t wonder as I clicked the captain’s legs into his torso, “I bet he acts out because of daddy issues.” Now all these molded pieces of plastic have expansive backstories, and I was afraid I lost out on the opportunity to invest in a Ninjago narrative fully. Maybe the world of Ninjago is just kids’ stuff. Tri Vuong proved me so wrong. Tri Vuong helped me believe in Ninjago.
In Tri Vuong’s LEGO NINJAGO – Garmadon, the titular character finds himself at a crossroads. He had just sided with the masters of Spinjitsu to expel a plague of ornery oni from Ninjago. Without his unparalleled mystical might, the kingdom would be rubble, but fighting alongside the advocates of Creation left him uneasy. Since the Sons of Garmadon resurrected him from the afterlife, his unmitigated aim has been to subjugate Ninjago as their dark lord and emperor. Unfortunately, all he’s managed to do is be their reluctant hero. How can he possibly be the destructive, malevolent conqueror he professes to be when all of his actions come to a net good?
I read LEGO NINJAGO – Garmadon because of Tri Vuong. They were co-creator, with Irma Kniivilla, of one of my favorite comics of 2022, Everyday Hero Machine Boy. Their name on the cover was enough to get me curious. What impressed me about Everyday Hero Machine Boy was how earnest it was. When recommending it, I often liken it to the Pixar film Up. You’ll be emotionally shredded in the first few minutes, and from that raw place, you receive the rest of the story as a balm for that initial heartbreak. That type of storytelling takes confidence and deftness. It is with that same exactitude that Vuong approaches the legend of Garmadon.
“How many failures must the Great Garmadon suffer through?”
Following the exposition, Vuong introduces us to a Garmadon who is utterly alone and defenseless. He is tucked into the crook of a tree in a deep, dark forest, where his sword is inches away but could not be further out of reach because he is fast asleep. In his dream, Garmadon battles a more demonic version of himself who chastises him for not yet taking the city of Ninjago as his prize. Vuong’s sincerity begins with the art, made vivid by Annalisa Leoni’s colors. The landscapes are richly detailed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stan Sakai’s Usagi appear between two knotted trees. Garmadon’s fight with his inner demon is vicious and dynamic, despite having the anatomy of two LEGO torsos stacked atop each other. There is a glorious splash of Garmadon taking an exacting, fatal blow to his monster and an even more chilling page turn to see that the fiend still lives.
Through his colorful characters, easy humor, and deep empathy for Garmadon, Vuong takes him on a journey of self-discovery that is a battle on two fronts. In his dreams, the two sides of his divided soul clash steel. In the waking world, Garmadon tries vainly to be the villain but keeps being the hero despite himself. I thought that, at best, a LEGO NINJAGO comic would be a fun, entertaining story where the characters being LEGO mini-figures was arbitrary, but Tri Vuong gifts us so much more. With LEGO as the platform for Garmadon’s adventure, that inherent metaphor of making and remaking is ever present. Garmadon can quit being the failed villain and become a selfless hero at any point. It’s as easy as changing his hat.
In the LEGO spirit of making and remaking, there is a reading guide included in the backmatter of this volume encouraging a young reader to disassemble the Tri Vuong’s tale of Garmadon and make their own. After listing the settings, characters, and key themes there is a list of 16 truly insightful discussion questions including, “1. Is Lord Garmadon a good guy or a bad guy? Or something in between?” “7. What is your favorite panel in the series? How does that art add to your enjoyment of the book?” and even “13. Do you think Lord Garmadon was really ‘meant to walk the path of darkness’? Are his actions because of his destiny, or his choices?” I love the idea of a book pointing back at itself through a reading guide and telling the reader there is more inherent value in this story if you take the time to really consider it. There is also a list of activity ideas encouraging the reader to try their hand at drawing a comic, perhaps doing a character design, or trying to build something out of LEGO that tells an original story. That is the book asking you to break it down to its component parts and build something entirely new. That creative power is in your hands. That’s LEGO.
TRADE RATING: LEGO NINJAGO – Garmadon, Vol. 1
Writer/Artist: Tri Vuong
Colorist: Annalisa Leoni
Letterer: Russ Wooton
Publisher: Skybound Entertainment/Image Comics
The First Ever LEGO NINJAGO Comic Book Series!
Perfect for fans new and old alike, an official new chapter in the LEGO NINJAGO universe begins here.
Far away from Ninjago City, a village is terrorized by a mysterious new threat when they’re saved by a stranger with incredible power known as… Garmadon, Lord of Destruction?!
Has Garmadon turned over a new leaf since his disappearance, or is this just the first step in his master plan of finally defeating Master Wu and the ninja forever?
The first collaboration between LEGO and Skybound kicks off from rising star writer/artist Tri Vuong (EVERYDAY HERO MACHINE BOY)!
Publication Date: November 2022
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