Return of the Dapper Men: A Steampunk Fairy Tale About Growing Up, Finding One’s Purpose, and Fulfilling One’s Destiny

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Fats here.

I discovered Jim McCann and Janet Lee’s Return of the Dapper Men more than a year ago while browsing through the graphic novel section of Barnes & Noble. The cover alone was enough to capture my interest. I became more drawn to the story after imagining Johnny Depp as “41” if the book were ever turned into a movie.

Return of the Dapper Men

The story takes place in a faraway land known as Anorev – a playful take on the name Verona – where humans and machines co-exist. Time stopped ticking and, with it, everything just fell apart. The citizens of Anorev no longer cared about their lives, and the once harmonious relationship between humans and machines became tarnished. There were no longer adults, only children under the age of eleven.

Soon, neither children nor machines knew which was work nor what was play, and neither seemed to be of any fun or any use.

Purpose was lost and both the children and the machines retreated to themselves. The children built a life among the gears of the world and ignored what was above, while the machines lived quietly in homes long abandoned.

They didn’t share their knowledge or wisdom nor did they speak of the past, all of which is what makes history.

In this bizarre world live two unlikely friends, a human boy named Ayden and a robot girl named Zoe. They must stick together to find the answers to their questions and restore Anorev to what it once was.

On Childhood and Growing Up

“When we are children we seldom think of the future. This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can. The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.”
— Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

Return of the Dapper Men branches out into so many themes that I do not know what to include and where to begin. In a way, I’d like to think of Anorev as Peter Pan’s Never Never Land, a magical place for people who refuse to grow up. While the story explained a little bit why Time has stopped in Anorev, I also thought that perhaps it was the children’s fear of growing up that contributed to such an occurrence. This, in turn, led to a future without progress, where each day is the same as any other day. This fear of growing up, however, is only a thin layer of what the story is about.

On Finding One’s Purpose

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In trying to make sense of the world around him, Ayden started to question things. This trait is what sets him apart from other children. Unlike children who were content with their lives underground, Ayden and his robot friend Zoe would constantly walk the land of machines above in search of answers and a purpose in life. Surely, there’s more to life than play, right? This quest for knowledge and adventure fueled Ayden’s desire to turn things around, hoping to take back what once was or build a new future for Anorev.

On Fulfilling One’s Destiny

“There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.”
— John Lennon

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As much as the book is about finding one’s purpose, Return of the Dapper Men also speaks about destiny, that strong grip of fate that one could not quite escape from. The photo above is one of my favorite pages in the book, and the two birds represent both Ayden and Zoe and what is to become of them. This I would most certainly leave for you to discover.

Without time, destiny’s reach was never further than the next step down the same well-worn path. So they walked as they always had, both from different worlds, and yet closer than any in either. They wandered and wondered…

…two things most didn’t do.

They knew they were unlike any others around them, which is why they kept their own company as much as they could. They were completely unaware of their importance, as all those who truly affect others should be. They would not have to wait long for destiny. It was coming to them.

The Essence of Time and Other Miscellaneous Thoughts

There is no denying that Time plays a valuable role in Return of the Dapper Men. After all, the land of Anorev relied heavily on the tick and the tock of the clock. In addition, the Clockwork Angel is ever present in the story and it holds the key to the mysteries surrounding Anorev. In Return of the Dapper Men, the old saying “time heals everything” resonates throughout the story.

Return of the Dapper Men is not a book for everyone. It doesn’t hurt, of course, if children read it. Jim McCann’s storytelling, however, might leave readers yearning for more details and answers to the questions raised by the book, if any. I had mixed feelings while reading the book. I found myself feeling lost in certain parts, although I attribute this to the open-ended narrative and dialogue exchanges between the characters, where questions were answered by questions.

While Return of the Dapper Men raised eyebrows among readers and critics (at least from the few that I’ve read), there seems to be a unanimous agreement that this graphic novel has a spellbinding and unique artwork that brought a steampunk fairy tale to life. Janet Lee is an exceptional artist and her vivid illustrations are truly a wonder to behold. Even though Return of the Dapper Men left me confused a few times, I would still recommend this to anyone, and experience the visual tour de force that it is.

Here is the brilliantly made book trailer of Return of the Dapper Men:

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Winner, Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album of 2011

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  1. “They would not have to wait long for destiny. It was coming to them.”
    I think I wrote something close to this last night. 🙂 Interesting. 🙂

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  2. […] of the style used in The Wild Thornberrys animated series. The plot is somewhat similar to Return of the Dapper Men by Jim McCann and Janet Lee, which I featured last […]

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