Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mysterius the Unfathomable #1

"Mysterius the Magnificent"
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist: Tom Fowler
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
Colourist: Dave McCaig
Editor: Ben Abernathy

Jeff Parker has made something of a name for himself in recent years as a writer of entertaining all-ages and vaguely retro superhero comics, such as X-Men: First Class and Agents of Atlas. With Mysterius the Unfathomable, he's trying something different: a standalone miniseries about an aging stage magician with genuine powers and Ella, the new sidekick who stumbles upon him. Through the joy of synchronicity, she ends up with little choice but to stick around as the latest "Delfi" - the name he gives to all his sidekicks.

This is a WildStorm miniseries, and it's nice to see that they still do this sort of thing. The imprint has had a rocky few years, and aside from its fading superhero universe, it seems to have become a dumping ground for video game adaptations and unused movie pitches. But it also gives DC a place to put comics that fit somewhere between the DC Universe and the Vertigo imprint. (Whether this is the best place for them is debatable. But at least it's a place.)

Mysterius himself is a vaguely obnoxious character who was apparently a fairly big deal at some point, but now makes a living doing seances and the like. He wouldn't be a particularly likeable protagonist, but he doesn't have to be, because Ella serves that role, and she's much more engaging. That leaves Mysterius free to be enigmatically annoying, a character that Parker writes rather well.

There's also an arch-sceptic character, John Darby, who's even more annoying than Mysterius himself. I was concerned for a while that the book was going to make the classic error of having sceptics who inevitably looked like idiots for denying the blindingly obvious. In fact, Parker avoids that trap: although we can tell that Mysterius has genuine magical powers, they're unreliable and unobtrusive enough that Darby is perfectly justified in saying he's seen nothing that couldn't be explained. Still, he's a one-note character, and infuriatingly smug as some professional sceptics can be, he feels excessively heavy-handed to me.

That point aside, it's a good first issue. Artist Tom Fowler makes Mysterius a suitably unheroic and self-important figure, and does very good work with the seance scenes in the afterlife, keeping the bleakness on the right side of dark comedy. And I like the presentation of magic as something that allows Mysterius to bend the rules rather than break them entirely; he's able to live a comfortable enough life in the margins, but doesn't seem to have any tremendous power over the real world. Magic is such a get-out-of-jail-free card that writers need to keep it on a leash to stop it ripping holes in the plot, and Parker judges it well here.

A strong start; I'll look forward to picking up the collection.

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