Giselle and Genevieve are two orphans working their fingers to the bone in a cruel orphanage in the city of Hyperion. When the two escape their headmistress (and her robot dogs), they end up in Hyperion's Royal Palace -- just in time for the High Artisan to choose his next magical apprentice.
NOTE: Due to unforeseen circumstances, Danny Djeljosevic was the only Comics Bulletin staffer to read and review Mystic #1 this week. However, he has politely agreed to adhere to the Sunday Slugfest format -- for better or worse.
One of the great benefits of Disney buying Marvel is that we now have a revival of Crossgen's titles, which Disney acquired in 2004. It's not often a defunct publisher gets a second chance, after all, and I don't think anyone expected to see the wonderful Ruse ever resurface. That title came back relatively unchanged, but other releases, including this week's Mystic have undergone significant changes, and probably for the better. I didn't read Mystic when during its original 43-issue (!) run in the early Naughties, but it doesn't seem like I need to, considering that the original Crossgen version looks like the kind of pantsless fantasy T&A comic that I wouldn't read even back then, much less today.
No, this modern Mystic is a bit more manga -- not in aesthetic, but in the sense that I could actually imagine a teenage girl reading this. Like the original, Mystic stars a pair of orphans named Giselle and a Genevieve, but this time they look like comfortably dressed girls who could exist in reality instead of enchanted porn stars. Even in the cover for the second issue there's no cleavage to be found. Their world, while still a fantasy land, has swaths of steampunk across it (read: robot dogs), because that's what the kids are into these days. That said, it still doesn't feel like anybody's trying to pander here.
There's a reason for this. Mystic also marks the welcome return of G. Willow Wilson, one of the most promising young voices in comics, whose Vertigo series Air was essential reading until its cruel and abrupt cancellation. Aside from some brief (and seemingly rushed, if the art was any indication) Superman fill-ins, it's been a while since we've heard from her.
Being the first of a four-issue miniseries, Wilson gets the first act of Mystic out of the way in these opening 22 pages, but not in the requisite "first issue set-up" kind of way that makes the first issue feel like the opening teaser to a TV series. At this point, it's clear what the story's about (unlikely girl becomes magician, more likely magician best friend sits on the sidelines) and Wilson's script quite nicely establishes the adventurousness and the fun, bantery chemistry between the characters.
Those characters, by the way, are incredibly well-defined, strong female protagonists -- one a romantic aspiring magician, the other tough and pragmatic -- put to demoralizing work by their cruel, Dickensian orphanage headmistress. Until they're sick of it and decide to rebel, of course. Save the High Artisan looking to enlist another magical apprentice, all the major characters in this book are female, which is refreshing. With all the talk about female-oriented comics and taking publishers to task for their hiring practices, Mystic is a comic doing exactly what we're all calling out for -- and one coming out from a major publisher.
Artists David and Álvaro López give Wilson's story the sheen of a Disney animated film in comic book form, rendering gorgeously expressive characters that create the sense of fluid cell animation while being still images on glossy-but-thin comic paper. The characters are cartoony but realistically proportioned, dynamic in each panel in a way that many of the the top tier superstars of comics art can only dream of achieving. They put a ton of work into making every character in Mystic look distinct and diverse -- especially the protagonists, who, in the original comics, were distinguishable because one had short hair and the other had long hair.
López and López also offer some amazingly subtle work in filling out the background details of their world -- expansive library bookshelves, ceiling murals in palace halls, grime on cooking pots, a couple flying machines in the distance. Through their respective pencils and inks, the world of Hyperion looks built by people and subsequently lived in -- not an aesthetically perfect landscape designed by artists.
Then comes Nathan Fairbairn's colors, which make the characters pop amidst their realistically hued (but not drab) backgrounds. While Genevieve's bright orange hair and green-blue clothing accents naturally stick out, Giselle's more utilitarian black hair, white tank top and brown pants are equally defined, revealing the true art of comic book coloring. Colors don't have to be bright and ostentatious to be visually stimulating.
These Crossgen revival titles haven't been selling a whole lot since they debuted earlier this year -- estimates say they're doing about as well as lower-tier Big Two titles, Vertigo books and some indie releases -- but Mystic deserves to find a much wider audience. Not just for the sake of because of demographics and gender equality, but because it's a fun, satisfying, awesome read.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter as @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his newest comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics.
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