I collect graphic novels based on classic literature, so I had high hopes for this series of Graphic Classics by Barron's. In addition to Man in the Iron Mask, they've also published Treasure Island, Oliver Twist, Dracula, Frankenstein, Kidnapped, Moby-Dick, and Journey to the Center of the Earth (and maybe others I'm unaware of too). It's a really cool concept, making comic books out of literature that can otherwise be a bit dry and difficult to get through, especially for teenagers. I'm giving it 2 stars for the idea alone. Unfortunately, Barron's does it very poorly.
I was introduced to this series beginning with the Barron's Graphic Classics version of Dracula by Bram Stoker, and while I don't own the other books, I've seen and read them at my local Barnes & Noble. I was highly disappointed when I received my copy of Dracula, and I wanted to be certain that the other books in the series were of similarly poor quality before dismissing the whole series out of hand, so I checked them out in person at my local bookshop. Unfortunately every book I looked at was done in the same style, which I'll describe below. I promptly removed all the others in this series from my wishlist.
The problem is that these books are not graphic novels as the term is generally understood, that is, pages consisting of large colorful panels of artwork that tell a story by portraying consecutive images of action, with characters speaking, acting, and moving throughout various background scenes -- in other words, a comic book. The Barron's graphic novels are more like a children's adaptation of novels. They consist of long paragraphs of text with illustrations alongside. You open the book and instead of seeing pages of artwork with dialogue balloons and perhaps a bit of boxed text, instead it's mostly typed text accompanied by color illustrations. The illustrations are done in comic book style, but they're pretty small and only account for maybe 1\4th of the page space. In a comic book I expect the artwork to cover the entire page with a minimum of explanatory text.
I realize that a graphic novel is not actually a comic book, but for all intents and purposes they're the same thing. A graphic novel should be mostly artwork; that is all that separates it from a regular novel that happens to be illustrated. I own graphic novel versions of The Hobbit and several other classics done by Marvel Illustrated (yes, the same Marvel famous for Superman et al) and those books are absolutely gorgeous -- full-color images in panels that cover the entire page, on heavy paper with a gloss finish, and the dialogue is taken directly from the text of the original novel rather than adapted.
That's another issue with this Barron series; not only is the "graphic" portion severely lacking, but the large amounts of text underneath each illustration isn't even text from the novel. It's more like an explanatory recap of what's going on, and it's necessary because the illustrations are so small that you can't really understand the story by looking at the scenes portrayed in the artwork. The defining characteristic of a comic book \ graphic novel is that the story is told via images rather than text, and this series by Barron's completely fails to do that. The art isn't done in comic-style panels featuring events happening as they unfold; there's little to no movement or action going on in any of the illustrations.
For example, the first page of Barron's Graphic Classics "Dracula" includes an illustration that's two inches square (I measured) and shows Johnathan Harker and another man. The man is saying, "Must you go?" and holding out a small chain with what I assume is a crucifix dangling on it, but the picture's so small to begin with that it's difficult to tell what the tiny object is supposed to be. There is nothing in the illustration to give a clue as to where the two men are; no scenery or background of any kind, it's just a blank illustration enclosed in a box with what might be the vague outline of a house behind the two men. It's a black and white outline, only there so that the illustration box wouldn't be completely white, I assume. The text underneath this says, "Johnathan reaches a gloomy old inn, where he asks for news of Dracula. The innkeepers shudder and insist on giving him a crucifix."
I don't know about you, but in a graphic novel I'd sorta like to actually SEE the gloomy old inn, not just an incomplete drawing of two men speaking with typed text underneath to assure me that this conversation is in fact taking place in a gloomy old inn in Transylvania. The entire book continues this way, and it's the same for every book in the Barron's Graphic Classics series; the illustrations are small and they don't tell the story at all, the way a graphic novel should. Instead they're merely that, illustrations -- small accompanying images that contribute a brief glimpse of things that are being explained and described in the text. The text itself is a modern short recap of the novel in 30 to 40 pages, without a single line of it taken from the original book.
Very, very disappointing effort from Barron's. Save yourself the disappointment and buy the Marvel Illustrated graphic novels instead. You'll be extremely impressed.