Mage Trade Post: The Hero Discovered & The Hero Defined

MAGE VOL 1 THE HERO DISCOVERED Mage: The Hero Discovered (Comico/Image)
Written and drawn by Matt Wagner
Collects Mage: The Hero Discovered #1-15

I’ve talked a lot about how influential  my time at Wizard was on my comic reading experience. That’s where I was finally able to read some of my all-time favorite comics like Preacher, Starman and Sandman along with plenty of others, too numerous to mention. Having access to what must have been one of the biggest, best and most varied comic book libraries around had plenty of advantages. As an intern I dug through books to read, but was also tasked with organizing the place. The problem? Too many comics and not enough space. The idea was that, every day, one of the interns would be up in the stuffy, hot windowless room, trying to make sense of poorly organized sections that sometimes had five copies of the same book. Keep two, get rid of the rest, that was our job. Whatever was deemed overflow, we got look through and keep.

Through that I got a box full of comics that included a big chunk of Abnett and Lanning’s original Resurrection Man series, a lot of Lobo comics that I still haven’t read and the majority of Matt Wagner’s Mage: The Hero Discovered. At that point I was mostly into superhero comics, though was checking out a few different things like 100 Bullets and other Vertigo titles along with some Cliffhanger books like Crimson, but I’d never quite read anything like Mage, which combined Arthurian legend with supernatural adventure in a way that was new to me (at least in the world of comics).

I’m not sure how or when I discovered that Defined was actually the sequel to an older series, but I eventually read that while working at Wizard, which kind of brings the whole thing full circle. In the past few years, I came across the hardcover collection of The Hero Discovered on Sequential Swap and did everything I could to get it (it’s one of the two worst Swaps I’ve ever done). I also found a copy of the Defined softcover at my local Barnes & Noble and after eyeing it for a while (and hoping no one else snatched it up between visits) bought my own copy. With both in hand it was only a matter of time until I read both books in relative proximity to one another (about two months, I believe).

The Hero Discovered — which Matt Wagner originally wrote and drew in the mid 80s at Comico — is the tale of how Kevin Matchstick started down the road of supernatural heroics. After stopping a strange creature from beating a guy up in an alley, he discovers that he’s actually the living embodiment of King Arthur complete with his own Excalibur (a glowing bat), Merlin (a wizard named Mirth) and squire (a young woman named Edsel). As anyone would, Kevin has trouble accepting this new world of monsters and magic, but eventually gives in to his in-born heroic nature and agrees to take on the looming threat of the Umbra Sprite along with his crew of supernaturally gifted pals. All of this leads up to a huge battle that not everyone survives. Truths are learned and at least some of the bad guys are beaten leaving Kevin to travel the world doing his hero thing.

In the post I wrote about Trinity and the Demon mini he did, I noted how you can really see Wagner’s evolution as an artist in those books. That is abundantly clear when you read these two Mage books. In Discovered he certainly has the beginnings of his style, but it’s not as detailed or refined. The characters all look a little more rounded-off than they do in the follow-up and his other work. I also noticed that the colors in the first book are often in the pastel family which adds a kind of cloudiness to the whole thing while Defined has a much more crisp, sharp color pallet. That sharpness caries over into the figures as well which have a lot more weight to them in this book. He also gets into more of the shadowy stuff seen in Trinity. Oh and every now and then he gives the characters Little Orphan Annie eyes which might sound odd, but they look perfect and evocative in his style.

MAGE VOL 2 HERO DEFINED Mage: The Hero Defined (Image)
Written and drawn by Matt Wagner
Collects Mage: The Hero Defined #1-15

A decade after creating the character, Wagner returned to the world of Mage in The Hero Defined, this time through Image. As I mentioned, this was my first exposure to this character. I like how Wagner doesn’t spend this entire book recapping where Kevin has been the last 10 years or so. It’s like he lived his life, took out some nasties, met some people, lost some friends and is now meeting new people and coming up against new challenges, you know, like a real person would. I liked how Wagner didn’t dwell on the past or use this story to hit the same exact notes as the first (though there are some similarities and call backs).

Kevin befriends a pair of other heroes who, like him, channel the energies and powers of classic figures of legend. Joe Phat’s a healer and a speedster a la Coyote while Kirby Hero has a Hercules thing going on, complete with required works from dear ol’ dad. This book really opens up the world of Mage as it features more heroes, more monsters and a potentially more dangerous threat.

As it turns out, something big’s going on in Canada, a confluence acting like a magnet for heroes and monsters. My only complaint about this book is that, there’s a lot of time spent building up the idea that all these other heroes are in town and not much is done with it. Kevin knows something bigger is happening and tries rallying the troops so to speak, but they’re not really into it. A few join his squad, but none go with him to the final battle aside from the pals who were on his side the whole time. I get that this is basically Kevin’s fight and the last issue really zeroes in on him, his destiny and his relationship to magic, but there was a part of my brain that kept wondering what the others were doing in that time.

When returning to a character like Kevin Matchstick and especially a book like The Hero Defined which happened to hit me at just the right time, I always wonder if the stories will hold up or if I’m looking back with nostalgia tinted glasses. I’ve got to say that, while there was definitely nostalgia involved in reading the latter book, these are still two very well constructed books that offer a lot for fans of superhero action/adventure/fantasy stories who might be looking for something a little more personal (Wagner has said that Kevin is based on himself in many ways).

One aspect that really struck me about both Mage books is how “realistic” they seem. Sure there’s ghosts and monsters and demons and whatnot, but there’s also a lot of humanity, heart and honesty in these pages. Kevin does not like his new life, but he deals with it as best he can. He and Mirth spend full pages talking about what he’s going through, sometimes with Mirth reading Kevin the riot act of the situation. While some of these text-and-balloon-filled pages might look intimidating, they feature the kinds of talks that people have with each other, even when the world is falling down around them. These talks offer our characters a few moments to slow down, take stock of what’s happening and often discover that they’ve been operating under huge misconceptions, an element you don’t find a lot in comics.

All of this points towards an idea I’ve been thinking about a lot lately which is that creator owned books have a lot more to offer than the Big Two superhero books (for me at least). I’m far from abandoning those concepts and comics entirely, but let’s face it, if a person is creating a comic from scratch and putting it on paper, there’s a creative intent there that’s admirable. That certainly happens with Big Two Superhero Comics, but there’s also a lot of filler material, books that are just there to sell, not necessarily tell the best story they can, though I’m sure the creators tried in most cases. It’s the difference between making something for creative reasons and making something to fill a space (let’s not be so naive as to say one is to make money and the other isn’t, everything that’s sold is intended to make money). Creator owned books also just have more room to flex and explore as they see fit, something that can get lost when working on someone else’s characters.

Ever since I first found out that Discovered and Defined were supposed to be part of a trilogy, I’ve wondered when Wagner was going to actually announce the third series. As far as I know, there haven’t been any updates in that field, but I hope he does get to it eventually. The second book does have a very satisfying conclusion as far as I’m concerned, but I’d like to pick back up with Kevin another 10-20 years down the line and see what he’s up to.

News Of The Day: Mage The Hero Discovered Movie News!

WOO HOO. I don’t think I’ve talked about my love for Matt Wagner’s Mage: The Hero Discovered and Mage: The Hero Defined on the blog before, but damn, it’s an amazing pair of stories that reinvisions legends like King Arthur and many more, puts them in modern society and lets them fight magic. It’s awesome. So, as you might expect, I was pretty excited this morning when CBR told me that the guy who produced Watchmen, The Rocketeer and other geeky flicks Lloyd Levin (sounds like either a Stan Lee creation or someone who should be in Superman’s life) picked up the rights to the first book. Wagner’s quoted basically saying that previous movie people wanted to change the material, but now they want to stick with the source. Sounds good to me. I actually just got the hardcover version of Discovered a few months back in a Swap that I haven’t read yet, but this might spur me on to read them both again. Good news!

Trade Post: The Pile


Hey Gang, seeing as how I’ve got a lot of time on my hands now, I’ve been tearing through some movies and trades. I haven’t done posts yet, but you can be on the lookout for more of those down the road. These trades are actually from last week and the week before. As usual, I’ll run down the pile top to bottom.

CAPTAIN AMERICA BATTLES BARON BLOOD (Marvel Illustrated Books) Written & drawn by Roger Stern and John Byrne
This little number was quite the oddity. I thought it was going to be one of those novels-based-on-comics things. I read a ton of the ones that came out in the 90s back then. I guess I should have noticed the “Illustrated” portion of the title. So, what you’ve got here is a strange book that collects (according to this site) collects Captain America 250, 253 and 254 which covers those issues where Captain America fights Baron Blood and meets the new Union Jack (as well as the newer Baron Blood) along with the issue where Cap says “no” to running for president. The interesting thing, which you can see in the below pic, is that they cut these comics into panels (black and white ones) and pieced them together on pages the size of the average Pocket Book. Weird right? The stories were good, though kind of slow and I would much rather read them in color. Roger Stern is the man, by the way, he’s definitely one of the most unsung writers in the history of comics.

DC UNIVERSE SPECIAL: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 (DC) Written by Len Wein, Gerry Conway & Jack Miller, drawn by Dick Dillin & Joe Certa
Though technically not a trade, there were two reasons I included this issue in this post. One, it collects Justice League of America #111 (“Balance of Power!”), 166-168 (“The League That Defeated Itself”) and Detective Comics #274 (“The Human Flame”). These are all stories that hold some relevance to Final Crisis and Infinite Crisis, though they’re not really hyping the IC connection. You get Human Flame and Libra’s first appearances, which make sense, and then the story in which the bad guys get inside the heroes’ heads and find out all about them, this leads to Zatana doing mind wipes and on and on. So, these are pretty integral issues that a lot of later stories hinge on. That being said, I found them to be boring and mostly skimmed through them. The second reason is that these reprints should have been reprinted again in the Final Crisis Companion, which I will get to shortly. That just makes sense, though, right? Might as well make that companion as much of a companion as possible and the first appearances of the two biggest new characters in the story should have their stories told. But, hey, it’s a rad cover, isn’t it? That Ryan Sook dude knows how to DRAW!

MOME VOL. 14 SPRING 2009 (Fantagraphics) Written and drawn by a ton of talented folks
One of the many perks of working at Wizard for a dyed in the wool superhero fan like myself was getting exposed to some of the more alternative sides of comics. Between going through the library and borrowing books from friends who are way more knowledgeable about these things than I am, I feel like I’ve just barely started to uncover the tip of the indie iceberg. So, as you might imagine, I’ve heard a lot about Mome, the indie comics anthology that Fanta puts out (those guys are amazing), but I’ve never read one until Vol. 14 and I definitely liked it. I will be completely honest, I don’t think I understood a lot of these stories, but I kind of like that. It’s like watching an experimental film, but with cool art. By far my favorite strip was called Kool-Aid Comic by Jon Vermilyea. I like the simplicity of it, the subject and the art. It all comes together in a fun little comic, of which you can peep a page or two of below. Fun stuff and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for future Momes.


SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE VOL. 7: THE MIST & THE PHANTOM OF THE FAIR (Vertigo) Written by Matt Wagner & Steven T. Seagle, drawn by Guy Davis
I’ve talked about my love of SMT before, but since then I’ve read the volumes I was missing and have come to like this series even more. For those of you not willing to click the link, SMT follows the Golden Age Sandman as he romps through pre-WWII NYC, fighting bad guys, evading the cops, being a genius, sometimes interacting with other Golden Age heroes (or soon-to-be ones) and sharing his life–both in and out of the gas mask–with his girlfriend Dian Belmont. What I love most about this book, aside from the NYC setting and my love of Golden Age DC characters, is the relationship between Dian and Wesley (Sandman’s real name). I think they’re my favorite couple in all of comics, mostly because they did away with the “keeping the secret identity from the girlfriend” thing. You also get to watch Dian evolve from a spoiled socialite to someone really trying to help the world. But, aside from all that, this volume gives us glimpses of a young, pre-Starman Ted Night and “The Phantom Of The Fair” which is the story that I remember reading about as being one helluva one back in the day from Wizard (they were right). I think you’d be okay if you jumped in here to read this much beloved story, but I highly recommend going back to the beginning. Here’s hoping that Vertigo continues their plans to collect this whole series.

FINAL CRISIS COMPANION (DC) Written by Grant Morrison, Len Wein, Peter Tomasi, Greg Rucka & Eric Trautmann, drawn by JG Jones, Tony Shasteen, Doug Mahnke, Ryan Sook & Marco Rudy
So, this is kind of a weird book. The actual Final Crisis collection is amazing. It’s got everything written by Grant Morrison in one place, while this one has the rest of the stuff that isn’t a regular series tie-in and the FC Director’s Cut which is the first issue without color or word balloons followed by the script. Then you’ve got Final Crisis Secret Files, Requiem and Resist. All these issues are cool on there own, but I do wish this volume was a big more robust. In addition to the reprints I mentioned above, I’d also like to see some of the JLoA and Teen Titan tie-ins included, just to have everything in one place. Ah well, it’ll still get a place on my bookshelf.

NIGHTWING: THE GREAT LEAP (DC) Written by Peter Tomasi, drawn by Don Kramer, Rags Morales, Doug Mahnke, Shawn Moll &
Joe Bennett
I dug Tomasi’s previous Nightwing volume, so I’m not surprised that I dug this second volume. The only problem with it is that it got awkwardly swept up in the Batman: RIP story. Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved Morrison’s Batman run, but the tie-ins lost me for the most part, including Nightwing. So, I hadn’t actually read most of these issues when they came out, but I did like the whole story, most of which involves Nightwing’s weird relationship with Two-Face, which is being carried over into todays Batman stories written by Winick. Interesting for sure.

TRINITY 1 (DC) Written by Kurt Busiek & Fabian Nicieza, drawn by Mark Bagley, Scott McDaniel, Tom Derenick & MIke Norton
Trinity got a lot of flack, but I think it’s because it wasn’t what people were thinking it should be. 52 was an amazing look at some smaller characters, giving them new life and making them important again in the DCU, Countdown tried way too hard to be the backbone of the DCU and Trinity turned into this crazy, out-there story featuring all kinds of heroes the casual fan has never heard of. This is just the first series, collecting #1-17 and I will warn you, it’s definitely for big time DC fans and not the feint of heart.

SECRET INVASION: INCREDIBLE HERCULES (Marvel) Written by Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente, drawn by Rafa Sandoval
Incredible Herc was one of those books that everyone loves but I missed out on in single issues. By the time I read the first trade, the issues were already into the third or fourth arc, but this, the second (collecting 116-120) collects the Secret Invasion issues. I wasn’t a big fan of SI, especially the ending, but I really liked how Pak and Van Lente flipped the script and looked at the Skrull invasion from a different angle. This time we see it from a religious viewpoint, with Herc and some other gods from regular and Marvel mythologies trying their best to kill the god of the skrulls. It’s a cool story, one filled with plenty of sci-fi goodness, but also some fun nods to mythology of all kinds that make this a really fun and well rounded book.

COUNTDOWN ARENA Written by Keith Champagne, drawn by Scott McDaniel
I’ve loved McDaniel’s art since his Nightwing days. There’s a short arc where NW fights Scarecrow early on that is just amazing and I highly recommend it. So, when I heard the news that DC was going to be putting out a book called Arena, drawn by McDaniel that would pit various versions of heroes against each other to see who would win, I was sold. Turns out this story didn’t have a lot of bearing on the actual Countdown story (as I noted here to some extent), but it remains one of the better looks at the multiverse that’s just been sitting around. I know that there’s been word that they’re waiting for Morrison to get in there and really dig deep on the multiverse at some point, but I’m getting tired of waiting. What’s the point of having it if you’re not going to do anything with it? Also, one quick thing that bothered me about many of the Earths they revealed was that they just took Elseworld books and extrapolated that into an entire universe. There’s an entire universe out there based on the idea that Batman was a vampire. And, hey, I like that original story as much as the next guy, but that doens’t mean it should necesarily get it’s own universe. Does that mean those Elseworlds annuals they put out each have their own universe? The one where Steel was around in the Civil War, Batman was actually Two Face or Superman was straight out the jungle book? It’s just a bummer because it feels like they just copied the original multiverse and added this other ones with haste, which wouldn’t have been a huge deal if they hadn’t limited themselves to just 52. Ah well. This book is definitely only for die-hards. Or maybe just me.

THE NEW TEEN TITANS ARCHIVES VOL. 1 Written by Marv Wolfman, drawn by George Perez
This might be comic book heresy, but I couldn’t even get through this book, which collects DC COmics Presents #26 and New Teen titans 1-8. I think what ruined the book for me is the fact that every Teen Titans writer since has mined this territory so, SO much. The only aspect of this story that was surprising for me was the mystical way in which the team first came together. Beyond that? I’ve seen the Deathstroke stuff and the Trigon stuff before. Several times. Geoff Johns did it and it seems like it’s been done a thousand times since then. And that’s coming from someone who loves Geoff’s Titans. Like, a lot. It’s an amazing book. I just think it’s about time for the Titans to move beyond their 80s roots and maybe make some new villains and get some new characters into the mix. Maybe I’ll put this one back in my “to read” pile and give it another shot somewhere down the line, but I’m not sure yet. For me, it’s just too “been there done that” for me. But man, Perez sure knows how to draw and I stand by my claim that he’s one of the few artists who’s actually gotten better with age. I’ll read any new stuff that guy puts out.

Halloween Scene: Batman Comics

2008-10-05
3:49:45 pm

A year or two ago the folks at Wizard decided to do a story of the 25 scariest moments in comics. I kind of had a problem with this because I’ve never really been scared by a comic, I’m not sure if it has to do with the format or what, but it’s never happened. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t read some generally creepy stories in comic book form. Recently I’ve read some pretty cool Batman-related stories that had a good horror elements. For the ongoing series’ I’m probably still an issue or two behind, so take that into account, but here we go.

BATMAN: GOTHAM AFTER MIDNIGHT

This is a 12-issue series written by Steve Niles and drawn by Kelley Jones. I’m not a big fan of Niles, so Jones was the big draw for me here. His art on Batman around Knightfall was the first time I realized that artists had different styles. No one draws a more over-the-top, creepy Batman then him in my book. And that’s basically what this book is, crazy and over the top. #3 was the last one I read in which the creepy zombie-looking villain convinces Clayface that, if he actually consumes people, he can grow to giant size. It’s a pretty cool concept that I haven’t seen done before but really makes sense. There are all kinds of over-the-top moments in the first three issues (Jones’ Batcave looks like a smelting factory, Batman’s building a giant robot suit just in case). Some people find it ridiculous, but to me that’s part of the fun.

JOKER’S ASYLUM

A little while ago DC put out these one-shots under the Joker’s Asylum banner showcasing Batman’s biggest villains, probably to tie into the movie because they came out so far ahead of Halloween. I read all of them, but I particularly liked the Scarecrow and Penguin issues.

Scarecrow was written by Joe Harris and drawn by super awesome fantastic artist Juan Doe. With Joker taking on the Crypt Keeper role in all these books, we get presented with a slasher-like tale of a young, nerdy girl getting invited to the popular girl’s sleepover with nefarious intent. It turns out that the girl’s shrink is actually the Scarecrow, who convinces the nerdy girl to go to the party. While she’s there, Scarecrow hunts down the teenagers and poisons them with his fear toxin. It’s probably the best slasher-movie-in-comic-form story I’ve ever read and it’s all done concisely in one issue. And boy oh boy is Juan Doe’s art fantastic. It’s a kind of angular cartoony style that still captures the eeriness of the scene. He also does some really cool little things like taking the old Joker face from his early appearances and using them as decorations on the Joker’s pajamas in the opening scene. Harris also sets up a possible future villain in the form of Lindsay, the nerdy girl. And one last thing, bonus points to Harris for referencing Mean Girls and Heathers (Heather’s the mean girl and Lindsay is the nerdy girl, after Lohan I assume). Well done all around.

The other Joker’s Asylum story I really dug is the Jason Aaron written and Jason Pearson drawn Penguin one-shot. It’s more of an EC revenge tale than a horror story, but it offers probably the best representation of the Penguin I’ve ever seen. If you think that he’s too ridiculous of a character to be a good villain in the next Batman movie, just read this issue and you’ll see what I mean. Instead of being an active threat to people we find that Penguin is much more behind-the-scenes in how his revenge plays out. There’s also a fun nod to one of the most over-done elements in Batman comics that I loved. Penguin’s day dreaming about his new lady friend while Batman’s beating up on his bodyguards. When he’s done Batman says “Just remember that I’ll be watching” to which Penguin responds “Yes, yes…see you next week.” As anyone who’s been reading Batman comics for a while, Penguin currently owns the Ice Berg Lounge where he’s considered a legitimate business man, but Batman still routinely comes there, knocks his guys around and tell Penguin he’s watching him. It’s gotten old fast for us Batman fans and this was, to me at least, a way of poking a little fun at that.

SIMON DARK VOL. 1 TPB

Like I said above, I’m not a big Steve Niles fan, but lately he’s been writing some pretty good comics, so maybe my tune is changing. What I first thought was a retelling of the Frankenstein tale has kind of morphed into something much more involving dark magic and other craziness all set in the backdrop of Gotham City. But don’t expect Batman to pop up every issue, in fact, I don’t think he shows up in this trade at all. I’ve read most of the issues after this one and still dig the story, even if it does drag out a little. A big, big part ambiance of the story definitely comes from artist Scott Hampton. Looking at it actually makes me feel cold. That’s really the best way I can describe it. Crisp. I think Simon may be my favorite new, non-legacy character from last year, especially as he finds more and more out about his weird past.

BATMAN FACES TPB

Really the only reason I even picked this book up is because of Matt Wagner. I’m a big big fan of Mage and really hopes he does the third and final miniseries. So, while waiting for that I decided to give this Batman/Two-Face story a while and I really enjoyed it. Basically Two-Face is trying to take over an island that Bruce Wayne wants to buy and start a new country with a bunch of European sideshow freaks. I laughed as soon as I saw them because I had JUST watched Freaks. It’s another one of those great coincidences like when you’re flipping through channels, stop on a History Channel or Discovery show about something you’ve never really heard of and then it comes up in conversation the next day. I love when that happens. The story itself isn’t all that surprising, but Wagner does some great thing with his art (like a Family Circus-style dotted line splash or the page consisting of a track). The big draw is Wagner’s art, especially his interpretation of classics like Batman and Two-Face and the freak characters. It’s more about the smaller moments, like how the freaks react at the very end of the story than the big plot stuff, but all in all it’s a really enjoyable story.