Summary: This manga retelling of the popular kids' horror series follows the original plot: Darren and his friend Steve find themselves at a real freak show (the wolfman bites someone's arm off). Steve puts them in danger by revealing his knowledge that the ringleader is a vampire, and Darren compounds the problem by stealing the vampire's unique and deadly giant spider.
Plot: When I read the first novel in the Cirque du Freak series, I didn't care for it because so much of it was just description after description of the circus freaks with no plot development. What was tedious in prose is fun and exciting in illustration. The freak show scenes are a strong point rather than a drag. This is a first volume, so of course most of it is spent on setup, but tension is built as lives get flung into the balance, friends become enemies, and humans become not (completely) human anymore.
Characters: Darren is a fairly normal boy with a morbid side and a blind spot where his best friend Steve is concerned. Steve is clearly not quite right in the head, but even after his eccentricity becomes violence, Darren never stops caring about him. Development of other characters is minimal here.
Art: Typical manga style, reminiscent of Yu-Gi-Oh or other manga for the younger set.
Writing/Dialogue: The dialogue is nothing extraordinary. This series is action-driven and even characterization is done more through the choices the characters make than through trying to give everyone a distinct voice.
Ending: Loose ends are everywhere! The stage is fully set for a long series.
What more did I want?: For what this is, a mid-grade manga series, I was pleasantly surprised and have no real complaints. If I knew more middle school boys, I would be recommending this left, right, and center.