I read MYSTIC #1-4

17 Nov

This is how you build a female audience, comics publishers.

by Mike Hansen

Mystic 1 cover

Mystic #1 cover art by Amanda Conner

I never really bothered to check out CrossGen Comics during its brief run as a mainstream comics player a decade ago. Like Valiant Comics before it, there just wasn’t room in the comics market for another publisher doing mainstream, superhero-style comics minus the superheroes, even with some serious talent on board – in CrossGen’s case, that included Mark Waid, George Perez, Jim Cheung, Steve Epting, Aaron Lopresti, Brandon Petersen, and more.

After its implosion, CrossGen’s properties were purchased by Disney, mainly to get ahold of J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog’s Abadazad, which was given new life as a series of illustrated young-readers books (which I also have yet to read).

And now, the Disney-owned Marvel has revived and rebooted some of the CrossGen titles, and it’s been a great launch so far. I recently got the Ruse and Sigil collections at a heavy discount from DCBS, and I’m looking forward to giving them a proper read soon. But the third relaunch title, Mystic, was too good-looking to wait on: I picked up all four issues, and they are terrific.

Mystic 1 page 11

Mystic #1 page 11 by Lopez/Lopez/Fairbairn

There are far too few female lead protagonists in genre fiction these days (I’m looking at you, Hollywood), and Mystic does a good job helping correct this imbalance. But it’s not that Mystic is a great comic “for girls”; it’s a great read for anyone who enjoys a good fantasy story. If I had to classify Mystic, I’d stick in the Young Readers/Fantasy section, but I hate labels, and I think this would appeal to a lot of folks, including people who don’t yet read comics.

Writer G. Willow Wilson (Cairo, Air) has crafted another deceptively simple and straightforward tale about two young, poor orphan girls with magical talents whose friendship is imperiled when one is chosen to join the rich and powerful wizards as a promising student, while the other is cast back out onto the filthy streets of the poor workers. Set in an almost-Steampunk world in which the majority of the people struggle to make ends meet, while the pampered and rich class lives in magical luxury, Mystic never turns didactic or propagandist, but keeps its focus on the characters and their human reactions to the extreme and extraordinary circumstances in which they find themselves. It’s a classic, Disney-film-style setup: in fact, this would make a fine Disney animated film. Sure, the story elements have been done before, but in Mystic they’re done very well; and given the story’s limited four-issue length, Wilson absolutely makes the most of it.

Mystic 1 page 12

Mystic #1 page 12 by Lopez/Lopez/Fairbairn

There are definite nods to Harry Potter with its fantasy world of wizard students, but the threat isn’t a super-bad-guy like Voldemort, but the fear that the world itself may collapse due to the source of magic disappearing and the class warfare driving people apart instead of bringing them together. The theme is very timely, with the now-global Occupy movement protesting our own world’s frustrations over the perception of a small wealthy class having not earned its comfort, power, and influence while the masses have been cheated out of numerous opportunities for a better life.

The characters are fleshed out well, with each having their own motivations and agendas, from jealous classmates to power-hungry protest organizers. The good guys and bad guys aren’t always as obvious as they are in Harry Potter – not all of the rich are bad, and not all of the poor are good, for starters – and the story’s resolution is a perfect wrap-up for this first volume – while leaving a number of things unresolved to make readers like me want to see what happens next.

Mystic 1 page 13

Mystic #1 page 13 by Lopez/Lopez/Fairbairn

The artwork by David Lopez (Fallen Angel, Catwoman) and his longtime inker Alvaro Lopez is wonderful: a beautiful look that reminds me of a mix of Kyle Baker, Jeff Smith, and (cover artist) Amanda Conner. They’ve been working in comics for years now, but I hadn’t noticed their work until now, and I’ve become a big fan. Colorist Nathan Fairbairn does an exemplary job using a (again, deceptively) simple color palette to draw out and heighten mood and atmosphere, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE how he does color holds on the black linework, something too few color comics have tried.

Sales on single issues of the new CrossGen titles have been okay, but unspectacular: perhaps these badly underrated titles would be noticed more had they not come from Marvel, which seems to do only one thing very well (selling serialized superhero stories). I urge everyone to give these titles a chance, because not only are they among Marvel’s best publishing efforts this year (along with their Disney-owned Muppets comics by Roger Langridge and The Incredibles comics by Mark Waid, both originally from Boom! Studios), but they are some of the best comics of 2011, period. With Marvel’s recent cancellation of X-23, it no longer has a single ongoing title with a female lead character. Mystic is the perfect title for Marvel to continue, and show how a mainstream publisher can use good comics to broaden its audience.

Mystic 1 page 15 preview

Mystic #1 page 15 preview page from Marvel.com

The Mystic trade-paperback collection of this four-issue story can be preordered from comics shops and online now, and I urge you to give it a shot. If you like good comics, buy Mystic. If you know a girl ages 10-30 who likes a good story (especially fantasy like Harry Potter), buy Mystic for her (and for yourself). This is a comic that deserves support, so we can see more good comics like this. I want more Mystic, Marvel. Make it happen. (And keep these books in print! These can be long-term steady sellers that deserve to find their audience.)

P.S. Hey, DC editors: See, it is possible to have a female-led title without offending a single member of its audience! (Okay, that’s unfair: DC has Batwoman, so that’s one…)

P.P.S. I just learned that David Lopez is the newest artist on Marvel’s New Mutants series – I’m gonna have to check that out, especially with his first issue having a super-sweet Jason Pearson cover…

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