If you’ve never read a comic book before, I suggest you start by reading Mage: The Hero Discovered, by Matt Wagner. He came to comics fame later with his Trinity series of comics about Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman–but Mage was his first comic. And, right out of the gate, he puts himself right up there with Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta) and Neil Gaiman (Sandman); by that, I mean someone who can write actual literature, albeit with word balloons and pencil-drawn pictures.
I won’t ruin the story at all, suffice to say that it takes place in a city (urban) and it’s a fantasy, with magic and elves (legend…so that explains my choice of title). Matt writes and draws it himself…and you can tell it’s his first comic as the art, while showing glimmers of the greatness to come, is a little rough. Stick with it–by the halfway point of the 15-issue series, it gets really good. He does some amazing storytelling simply using a look, or a shift of panels. When it came out, I remember the 4- or 5-month lag between #14 and the final issue (usually just a month between issues)…and it was TOTALLY worth the wait.
And the writing is superb. The story is well-plotted, well-paced, and believable (well, once you believe in ogres, dark Sidhe, and the like). The dialogue at times may seem a little heavy-handed but, if you can accept how characters talk in an Aaron Sorkin show, Mage is easy. It’s like reading a Mamet play–with dragons and a magic baseball bat.
Two of the main characters, Kevin (the Hero) and Mirth (the World-Mage) even pause before the final battle to have a little existential chat about the meaning of the struggle against the dark forces arrayed against them:
KEVIN: All I’ve ever wanted is to be left alone.
MIRTH: Oh really? And what the hell ever led you to believe that you ever deserved such isolation? Don’t you think the womb beckons to us all? You sit there, and demand that peace be delivered up to you, by the sheer fact that you exist. While others all around you fight the battles and move the stones. You belittle their achievements by your clamorous inactivity.
And then they discuss Kevin’s reluctance to play his part, as it were:
KEVIN: I’m no hero.
MIRTH: That is because you still don’t realize that the isolation you so desperately cling to is in fact your fear of yourself…and the sacrifices that others have made around you.
You fail to see the hero in us all.
Great stuff. Great literature. I’m glad no one’s ruined it by trying to make it into a movie…and I hope they never try. If you haven’t read comics before, go ahead and check it out–you wont be sorry. And if you do read comics, but haven’t read Mage, you need to mend the error of your ways IMMEDIATELY.
Magic is green.