Review: Mage: The Hero Discovered (Vol. 1)

Back when I first discovered comics, I read only superhero stories, and soon, I grew frustrated with the never ending storylines and having to chase another comic to maintain the story in the one I was reading. It quickly became apparent that I wanted more than a superhero story. There’s nothing wrong with those types of tales, and Marvel is killing it right now with their films, but, for whatever reason, reading a superhero tale is a non-starter for me. I think it’s because the stakes never felt real. Sure there were deaths in comics, but continuity was and is king. In stories which the superheroes face real, unchangeable consequences, like Michael Martinez’s MJ-12 Inception, I’ll enjoy the tale and want to return to that world. But at the time, I broadly painted comics as a place of safe stories. Sandman, Watchmen, and Sin City existed, but, having been burned on some terrible independent comics, I hesitated and eventually stopped buying anything outside the mainstream. But I remember one comic that I was always tempted to buy but never did. Mage: The Hero Discovered had a cover that I found interesting. Kevin Matchstick with an illuminated bat piqued my interest enough that I remember debating on buying the comic; sadly, I never followed through. Between taking a chance on something new or saving for the next Robert Jordan book, I chose the latter and would do the same today. A chance to read and review the first volume of Mage came up, and I had to do it. Now, I know that I missed out on something special all those years ago because this would have been right up my alley back then.

Mage: The Hero Discovered has an interesting publishing history. I thought it had always been an Image book, but that isn’t true. However, it’s the Image I up in the corner that drew my attention. As my frustration with Marvel and DC grew, a new company centered on artists entered into my little world. Image, in general, and Jim Lee, in particular, kept me reading comics. The beautiful, detailed art kept my attention despite the anatomical impossibilities of the characters. It was fiction; so, why not just go with it? Image was attempting something new and different, and it opened up possibilities for me that carried me through to discover excellent comics that I love and would recommend to anyone. While I no longer consume single issues, I will buy the trade paperback collections. I don’t know if this is true, but it feels like more bang for my buck, and they satisfy my impatience for MOAR STORY!!1!! The Image logo is still enough to get me to look at a book, and it is still a company that publishes excellent works of art like Bitch Planet. With all this in mind, when I saw the copy of Mage, I had to jump on it. In a way, it felt like going back to those turbulent days of youth when I was discovering that novels weren’t the only path to good stories. Mage: The Hero Discovered (Vol. 1) delivered on that nostalgia, and it is still a book worth reading.

TL;DR: Mage: The Hero Discovered (Vol. 1) is a fun introduction to the world of Kevin Matchstick, Mirth, and the elusive Fisher King. Recommended for everyone and a must read for Matt Wagner fans.

From the publisher:

The first of two volumes reprinting the classic early issues of creator MATT WAGNER’s epic fantasy trilogy. THE HERO DISCOVERED reveals the fledgling adventures of the reluctant everyman hero, Kevin Matchstick. After encountering a shaggy and beguiling wizard, Kevin soon discovers is that he is more than he ever imagined.

This seminal work has found an enduring popularity with readers for decades and marks creator MATT WAGNER’s emergence as a powerful story-teller. With the release of the final part of the MAGE trilogy, this series will spark interest with new readers and older fans alike.

The first volume is pretty straight forward world building for a much larger tale. Based on the use of the Fisher King, this story is set to tie into the Arthurian legends. These four issues are Kevin awakening to his powers while also gathering the team. The introductions are well done, but I’m not sure if they have aged well. The books concern is to get right into the action, and it does that while building up the team all along. Mirth, the magic user, is my favorite; he’s wise with an edge of something sinister just under the surface. It seemed as if he were a trickster-archetype character, and he may end up being that. However, Wagner walked the thin line between compelling and annoying that make tricksters difficult characters to write. It’s too early to know what the stakes are for Mirth, but he is the character that had the most depth.

The art is distinctly Wagner’s own, and while it isn’t as the highly detailed, over-exaggerated realism that I enjoyed in the early Image comics, it works here. The art distinguishes it as a different type of comic to prepare the reader for something new. This work was early in Wagner’s career, but one can see his style that has been refined today. Since the story isn’t as dark as a Batman or a Grendel book, the art is a bit lighter as well. I particularly liked the creatures summoned by the Umbra Sprite; they were fresh yet recognizable takes on Fantasy creatures.

While I enjoyed this book and will definitely return to it, I think it would have reached maximum impact for me years ago. It’s a simple story with distinct good and evil; while as the story progresses, shades of gray may come into the tale, these gradations are not there now. As with any review of the beginning of something, it’s hard to know where the story will end up. But for now, there isn’t much under the surface. This is because the world-building is rather shallow at this point. The city and the background don’t feel like a city yet; it wasn’t a distinct place. I couldn’t tell you if it operated in Los Angeles or New York. Though, due to the years it was published, I keep imposing it on the city of Seattle. This, however, isn’t a reason to skip the comic; it might be a function of how comic storytelling has evolved since it’s publication date.

Mage: The Hero Discovered is a good start to an updated take on the Arthurian mythos. I enjoyed the first volume and look forward to the continued story. Volume one introduces us to the world of Kevin Matchstick and his eccentric teammates. Read along and join the party. I give Mage: The Hero Discovered (Vol. 1) 7 out of 10, and 90’s Eric gives it an 8 out of 10.

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