I had a dream about I, Mage last night. I dreamt about a world in which science and magic were both unlike I had ever seen them before. I dreamt about a universe in which the difference between them was important. I dreamt about struggle, about conflict, and about the stresses of being a hero. Then I dreamt that I tweeted about it, because having Twitter for the past month has changed me.
The funny thing? I hadn’t actually read the comic book yet. The really strange thing? My dream wasn’t as far off as you’d expect it to be. With the exception of the Twitter thing. That was just weird.
Written by Gary Turner, I, Mage #0 begins with an explanation that magic and science do not coalesce well with one another. Magic is alive, and does not appreciate synthetic intelligence. We are introduced to this concept while aboard a science vessel, which colorist Teodoro Gonzalez has filled with blues and purples that help bring every panel to life. Seriously…Pablo Picasso spent an entire period of his career focusing on this side of the color spectrum, and I don’t know that he ever managed to use quite as many shades as you’ll see in the light and shadows of this book. Granted, Gonzalez was also fortunate enough to be filling in dramatic lines and shadow provided by excellent artist Carlos Gomez, who has a long history of fantasy and science fiction comics between his work on Pathfinder and The Dresden Files, not to mention Zenescope’s Oz.
I’ve read comics where I primarily enjoyed the writing. I’ve read comics where I primarily enjoyed the aesthetics. I’ve read comics where I greatly enjoyed both. But this is one of the rarest forms, a comic in which one would seem incomplete without the other. Everything about I, Mage #0 feels…complete. Not that this is any more than the beginning of a much longer story, simply that it feels as if any further work on this issue would have been overkill. As is, the comic offers us quite a bit.
What impressed me in the opening pages is that we quickly learn something about the humanity of the main characters. The protagonist is Kai, the son of two important people on the vessel. He watches as his friend Neel is bullied for asking too many questions in class and making the lessons harder on the other students. He then talks to his dad about it, and his dad essentially tells him to stand up for Neel and do what’s right. It feels like the sort of father/son discussion you might see on an after school special, but this version takes place in a room surrounded by magical beings kept in stasis.
Neel doesn’t feature too heavily after the intro, but his introduction readies us for Kai. If Neel is who you feel you are, Kai is who you’d want to be. They’re both young students who want to know more about the world and find their place in it, but don’t always mix so well with others. The difference is that Kai is a little braver. He’s willing to admit that he talks to himself too much, and he’s not ashamed of this fact. He may regret his current station in life, and he may long for more. But who doesn’t? Aside from his basic internal struggles, he appears to be more at peace with who he is than even he is aware. That may sound like a strange thing to say, but Kai is an interesting character with a level of depth I suspect we’ve only just begun to explore.
Without spoiling too much, some of the other highlights of I, Mage #0 include a big (and vaguely reminiscent of Iron Giant) robot, a cute little gremlin who tries to pull the panels apart, and a weird little creature called a “baka” playing with a feather. I don’t know for certain that the name is supposed to sound Japanese, but the baka’s few panels in the comic have me believing that the translation is no accident.
I do have one complaint, and that’s the use of the word “frag.” It appears to be a replacement for another word (you know which one), much like “frack” in Battlestar Galactica. My complaint isn’t about the similarity, just about this:
Is that a common expression? When I’m impressed by something, should I call it unfuckable? Because if so, I, Mage #0 is one of the most unfuckable comics I’ve read this month.
If you’re a fan of rich colors, a fantastical yet somehow deeply relatable story, and cool creature design, then I suspect this series is going to be one for you to watch. You may not get to see Kai become a mage in this first issue, but you get to see a character with a +3 intelligence modifier—and yes, that is something the comic tells you—flex his problem-solving skills in a way that sets him up to become a great hero. He has some things to learn, but it’ll be fun to watch his missteps as he treads a new path in life.
My hope is just that we get to see another baka or two. No idea what the crazy little buggers are, but I could read a whole comic about them.