Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

The Mage Runner

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 21st, 2017

Mage, Book Three: The Hero Denied #0
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Matt Wagner
Colors: Brennan Wagner
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $1.99 US

I have to admit I’m only a casual reader of Matt Wagner’s comics. I’m broadly aware of the two creator-owned properties for which he’s known – Mage and Grendel – but I’ve read only a few comics from the various runs of those titles over the decades. There’s no denying there’s a fanbase out there for this material, though, so Wagner’s choice to return to Kevin Matchstick and company isn’t surprising. What drew me to this comic wasn’t so much my past exposure to Mage or the strength of Wagner’s work, but the cheap price, to be honest. While entertaining and diverting, it manage to hook me, so I don’t know if I’ll be moved to seek out subsequent issues.

Creepy little monsters still lurk in the dark corners of the world, and a new generation of heroes has arisen to deal with them, heroes like the hover-boarding millennial known as “the Steeze.” The cocky, young champion encounters Kevin Matchstick and is determined to show the old-timer a thing or two, but it doesn’t take the experienced hero long to teach him a thing or two. Still, the Steeze struts away, confident he saved the day, but Kevin knows the new generation hasn’t even scratched the surface of nefarious threats out there.

This zero issue is fun, but it fails in what should have been its chief goal: introducing a new audience to the world of Mage. Matchstick is only called by his Pendragon codename, for example, and the nature of the world’s heroes and how they get their powers is never explored. It seems like a failed opportunity to offer an accessible gateway into this world for the uninitiated (or the forgetful, such as yours truly).

How this $2 comic hits the mark is visually. Despite the permanently dark backdrop, the line art, colors and even lettering are all vibrant and fun. I love the design of the nasty, little Bookas. I love the red and white energy effects representing the heroes’ powers. But most of all, I really enjoyed how unrestrained and unconventional approach Dave Lanphear takes with the letters. Almost every panel features a word balloon that emphasizes something by giving it its own mini-logo. The letters burst beyond the curved borders of the balloons, grabbing the eye and adding to the energy of the scene. The incorporation of added colors to the letters really adds to the dynamic, occasionally goofy effects.

Another aspect of the comic that didn’t work for me was the portrayal of Steeze. The point of the issue was to show a cocky kid failing to recognize the wisdom and experience of an elder hero, but the Steeze is such a caricature, it was distracting. The whole skateboarding thing didn’t strike me as particularly contemporary; it felt more like an older guy’s idea of a cocky kid. Which, I suppose, is the case. But he didn’t feel rooted in anything real, but rather an older guy’s dated, mistaken concept of a millennial. Now, while I find it easier to relate to the older guy, I would have liked to see something real characterization in the irksome upstart as well.

I picked up a copy of this inexpensive zero issue for a friend of mine, who’s only an occasional comic consumer but a major Mage fan. I noted he was posting online comics news stories about this new series, so I knew he’d love to have this issue. What he asked me when I gave it him was if and when the collected edition of The Hero Denied would be released. That made me think: why isn’t The Hero Denied an original graphic novel rather than a comic-book series first? It’s unlikely this third Mage series will attract a lot of new fans, and chances are, if it did, those readers would seek out past collections to get up to speed. That means any new readers and previous fans would be receptive to devouring The Hero Denied in one satisfying lump. I could be wrong, and chances are Image and/or Wagner might have even examined the possibility. 6/10

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One Response to “The Mage Runner”

  1. Ebrahim Aldoseri Says:

    I might be in the minority, but I prefer single issues. I’ve never read Mage and recently went back and bought all the single issues instead of the collections.

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