Mae is a small town girl, living on a farm in a quiet section of Indiana. The rural life is fine for her if a bit limiting, but the small town doesn’t keep away big city concerns. Her family has a hole at its center and that hole comes from Mae’s sister. When she was young, Mae’s sister Abbie kept running away from home, disappearing to a place that she never explained. Within a few years it seemed that Abbie had disappeared forever and the family lost touch with the child for seven long years.
Until one day Abbie reappeared in the small town. She was grown up, of course, but not in the sort of way you might expect. She appeared confident and beautiful, centered in herself and with secrets very different from those that most runaways experience. As we start to learn in the new Dark Horse comic Mae, Abbie has been far, far away – in another land like Narnia or Oz.
That’s the concept behind this new Gene Ha series and that concept seems intriguing and clever. The problem with reviewing a first issue like this one is that it embodies one of those old truisms that we comic book reviewers live by: reviewing a first issue of a comic is a lot like reviewing the first fifteen minutes of a movie or the first fifty pages of a novel.
In this case that comparison is completely appropriate, because it’s just like reviewing the first fifteen minutes of the first Harry Potter movie. You know what I mean. I’m thinking about all the scenes where Harry’s adoptive family treats him terrible before Harry discovers this whole secret world that’s just beyond this one. Mae #1 concentrates on the prosaic aspects of young Mae’s personal life in order to set up events that will follow later on in this series.
That makes sense and is a smart way of delivering the story. I’m sure it will read well in TPB form and probably sell a kajillion copies because this sort of story often works really well. But as a standalone first issue that I was asked to review, it’s impossible to read on its own without wondering where the story will lead or how these characters will change.
For what it is, this issue is quite wonderful. Writer/artist Gene Ha is doing his first longform comic in which he’s both writing and drawing the story. He delivers a tale full of fully-fledged lead characters, understandable small-town frustration and some cleverly drawn creatures from “over there.” Mae is at the center of this story but she’s stuck in place while her best friend and her sister are both in motion. Mae’s friend Dahlia is off at Purdue University having weird adventures (and becoming a fashion plate) while Mae is stuck in her town helping her dad with his business and accepting her limited lot in life.
But Mae is also a fun character. With her references to Doctor Who and her smiling attitude, this is a woman who clearly is making the best of what life has thrown at her, a quality that will no doubt help her as she slides deeper into strange adventures. After all, if her name’s on the title, Mae has to be our protagonist.
Mae #1 is a promising first issue. Much of its promise comes from the fact that it’s a slow burn and this story can head in most any possible direction. But much of its promise also comes from the fact that Gene Ha’s art is wonderful and he does a terrific job of building character and world. This isn’t quite essential reading yet, but the setting and characters pay off, Mae has the potential to become the next Saga.