• Mage: The Hero Denied #1

    Mage: The Hero Denied #1
    Released by: Image Comics
    Released on: August 16th, 2017.
    Written & Illustrated by: Matt Wagner
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    “Kevin Matchstick was just a cynical everyman until a chance encounter with the beguiling street wizard Mirth revealed him to be the reincarnation of the legendary Pendragon and rightful wielder of the mystic weapon, Excalibur. In his many battles against minions of the malevolent Umbra Sprite, Kevin has struggled to understand his destiny, a dilemma that’s resulted in tragedy and seemingly even the loss of his greatest legacy. Years have passed since his last adventure combatting the forces of dark magic…”

    The first full issue of this third and supposedly final installment in the saga of Kevin Matchstick opens with our hero taking a leisurely stroll through the woods. As he sings to himself his son, Hugo, calls out to him. They need to get going but Hugo wants to play ‘pooh sticks.’ Kevin obliges and as they drop their sticks in the river he notices a strange bug and then the presence of an ominous looking bird. It’s almost as if these mystical looking creatures are watching them.

    Kevin knows something is up. He tells Hugo to follow the path to the jungle gym to play with his friend Eric and to wait for him there – not to talk to go off the path for any reason and not to talk to anything, err… anyone he might meet along the way. With Hugo out of the way Kevin urges the creatures to show themselves for what they really are, and so they do. He’s outnumbered, sure, but he’s not afraid. As they came within reach of his son, he makes sure they’re dealt with, permanently. But Hugo… he maybe didn’t listen to his dad’s instructions so well. Regardless, with the imminent threat dealt with, Matchstick drives his kid home with the promise of tacos for dinner.

    Elsewhere, a woman referred to as the Umbra-Mother talks to her five spawns, the ‘gracklethorns,’ about the problem Matchstick poses for them. She wants them to seduce him and then to make him suffer but first, they have to continue their quest to find the Fisher King, the same Fisher King that Matchstick still hopes to find. He needs to find the third Mage…

    It’s been a long time since we had a new Mage story from Matt Wagner but this first proper issue (we did get an issue #0 preview last month, reviewed here) makes it seem as if we never left this world. It’s all here – the humor, the action, the adventure and the very human element that mixes into the story so well, to anchor it and make a character with unheard of magical abilities someone we can all relate to. Kevin’s middle aged, he’s got a wife and two kids that he has to deal with, he’s got financial responsibilities and a house to take care of. He’s also got world saving to do and monsters to fight. Life/work balance can be a tough thing sometimes, and that concept plays out in this issue comically but so too does it clearly setup some big things yet to come. Wagner’s writing is sharp, at times you wonder how much of Kevin Matchstich’s personality is Wagner’s personality coming through, and his artwork is as strong as it’s ever been. It’s great to see him go full on art deco like he does in some of the Grendel stories or like he did on The Shadow book he finished up for Dynamite last year, but his style in this series, grounded in the modern day (Matchstick drives a Volkswagen!) is just as impressive.

    You’d think the wait between storylines would tarnish this series, but nope. We’re only one issue in at this point, really, but Mage is back and it’s just as much fun as it ever was.

    In the back pages of this issue there’s also an interview with Wagner conducted by Henry Barajas in which he talks about his own way of making comics and of course about the Mage series specifically.

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