Bookshelf Reviews – Mage: The Hero Discovered

  • Mage: The Hero Discovered
  • Comico (original publication)
  • Image Comics (current distribution)
  • Created, Written, & Illustrated by
    • Matt Wagner
  • Creative Guest Appearances by
    • Sam Keith (inks)
    • Jeromy Cox (colors)
    • Brennan Wagner (colors)

Meet Everyman Kevin Matchstick. He’s pretty much your average guy, just going about his business & getting by as best he can. Least, he was until fate took him by the scruff of the neck and dragged him, kicking and screaming, to meet his destiny. Well, Mirth… he met Mirth, a mage of mysterious origin, both wide of grin & vague of purpose. It’s fallen to him to make sure that Kevin lives long enough to discover the hero within.

My ever evolving, perpetually rotating bookshelf… one of several

It’s seriously been a while since I’ve dipped into Matt Wagner’s Mage, a lapse that I’m going to have to remedy. I wasn’t one of those angsty types who thought that Grendel was the penultimate story and Wagner’s definitive opus. Focused as it was on the villain rather than the hero, it just didn’t appeal to me. However, Mage was a book that I really got into when it first came out in 1984, although I lost track of it after a while and never did finish the series… another lapse I’m going to be looking to.

Mage: The Hero Discovered is a mix of mythology & superheroes, taking elements of Arthurian legend and spilling them out into the modern (80’s) comicbook. Admittedly, I’ve forgotten a lot of the elements of the story, a point that might be working very much in my favor as it lets me dive in as a nearly new fan. I can say that having polished off the first volume trade, Wagner did a great job of easing readers into his world, dropping names like the Fisher King as vague hints toward what he might be going for. Also, as a writer Wagner is one of the best at letting a character introduce him/herself through their actions rather than leaning into exposition or introspective dialogue. Take Edsel, one of the title’s supporting characters… she’s in the book for the better part of an issue, moving along and doing her thing, before we’re ever really clued in that she’s going to be a major part of the story. By that time, she’s a character any reader will find themselves rooting for as she unflinchingly swings for the fences to fight off an attack.

Of course, the focus is on the Hero. For his part, Kevin is a likeable fellow, taken off guard by the sudden appearance of what can only be described as super powers. What’s kinda cool with Kevin’s journey, though, is that the series is well into its run before Kevin really has a handle on what those powers are. And as far as mentors go, Mirth is only as helpful as he needs to be at any given moment. The most he tells Kevin is, “it is the Struggle itself that fires your power.” The meaning here is that Kevin is only as powerful as he needs to be at any given time, something that comes into play when he urges someone to punch him as hard as he can. Not really a big deal considering the attacks Kevin was able to shrug off in previous issues, but in this case it didn’t work out so well for him. It’s a different approach from what we’re used to as comic book readers. Generally a hero gets his or her powers, and they’re cruising along like a pro by the end of the first issue, maybe two. Wagner comes at his story from a different angle and I’m finding that learning everything along with Kevin, with no insights or knowledge that he hasn’t earned, is a great entry into the mythology that Wagner is building.

As good a story teller as Matt Wagner is, his artwork is undeniably a cut above. There’s nothing flashy or excessive about it at all, more minimalist with clean lines and nothing wasted. The action is dynamic, the characters “moving” smoothly across the page, and always drawn with an eye toward their personalities. I’ve said that I really didn’t care for Grendel, Wagner’s defining work, but that’s not to say that I don’t want to like it. There’s something about Wagner’s character designs that make me want to read everything he does. No lie, I’ve tried to get into Grendel multiple times across his multiple titles, always with the same result. With Mage, however, the artwork gets my attention and the story keeps it.

As a look back at some early attempts to break away from the outline of the “superhero comic”, Mage: The Hero Discovered is a fantastic piece of work. My only regret is that I have no idea what happened to my original printed copies… another lapse I plan on fixing. For readers who are more interested in the “who” than in the “what”, this is a great title that’s aged very well.

Final Score: 10+

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