May contain minor spoilers for I, Mage #2.
It’s been a while since I’ve had the privilege of reviewing a comic, which means I missed the last issue of I, Mage. Fortunately, I, Mage #2 is now on the shelves, and I am able to pick up where I left off. If I’d had the time to review the last issue, I might have expressed doubt that it was starting to reach its peak. I, Mage #1 did a fantastic job of establishing the world of Urth in just a few opening pages, and I wasn’t sure that subsequent issues would be able to top it. Fortunately, I was dead wrong.
In I, Mage #2, we learn a lot about certain things that had been touched upon in the previous issue. For instance, we had learned that only so many people are granted arcane sight, the ability to see the flow of magic through the planet and its elements. In this issue, Zawa tells us a little more about how this works. We learn that not only can the magi see the arcane, but that they see it to such an extent as to alter their entire view of the world. Where Kai sees only a lightning bug or a plant seed, Zawa sees something more. This is a fascinating notion, and I hope we’ll be seeing more of the arcane sight from either Zawa’s or Skirnir’s perspective in the future.
Speaking of Skirnir, he takes point in this issue in a big way. We see him outsmart a tau (huge humanoid goat creature) in a physical encounter without once throwing a punch or even casting a spell. We also see him infiltrate an orc camp, which just so happens to be run by the Overq’sai. We had only caught a glimpse of this main villain in the last issue of I, Mage, but we get to see him do a bit more in this one. And from the look of it, he and his soldier Celeste will be given a pretty nice action sequence at the beginning of I, Mage #3. The fact that our heroes have encountered the main villain so early on gives me huge hopes for the future of this series.
It’s worth mentioning that Kai’s loader bot doesn’t do much more than help a few bumpkins get out of the mud, and I actually thought that was great. There seemed to be a bit of a dependence on him/her/it last issue, and it was nice to see the robot wheeling back for a minute. This golem does not look to be the deus ex machina that I was worried it would be. In fact, its role in the possible action sequence next issue is left somewhat uncertain. With where it’s left at the very end, there are basically two options: either the rest of our heroes will have to do without it, or it’s going to be causing some massive destruction.
There are a few other things we learn in this one. The D&D-style character sheet in the back teaches us that the iron golem is immune to magic, which explains why it so easily brought down a lich in the last issue. We also learn that some (if not all) magi are limited to a certain number of spells per day. This is a nice development, as it means they can’t solve all problems with magic. They have to strategize as much as anybody.
Furthermore, while I thought they had basically established all of Urth in the last issue, some new characters in the orc camp reveal the existence of clerics, dwarfs, elves, and what appears to be a female orc of neutral-good alignment. There were also one or two races that I couldn’t quite make, meaning that we aren’t anywhere close to learning what all this primitive world has to offer.
Gary Turner is simply doing an excellent job with this story, with new revelations coming in each issue. He’s also good at establishing a level of familiarity with each new introduction. By this issue, all of the world-building expansions from last issue were memorable enough that it never felt like he was throwing too much new information at the reader. Every character, including those we’ve just met, has a way of speaking that feels quite distinct. With some of them, you could easily read their dialogue without any imagery and still guess exactly who was speaking.
If the illustrations feel a bit different in I, Mage #2 than they did in I, Mage #1, you have Mel Bontrager to thank for that. She is credited for “lively pencils,” and I could not think of a more apt description. She has a very playful style that very much works for this world, not to mention the way it complements the bright and vivid colors provided by Eddy Swan. That said, it’s only playful when it needs to be. The villain is fiercely designed, and I never thought I’d describe magic-casting as “serrated” until I saw the first couple of panels in which he appears. There’s also a scene in which a man slices open a dead woman, which—despite the utter lack of real gore—feels absolutely as dark as it should.
Quick random note—I’m realizing for the first time that the strange lettering used for the spells is actually in English (albeit heavily stylized). I was able to make out a couple of words here and there. I had previously never looked so closely, simply assuming it to be on par with Tolkien’s elvish writing. So, that’s a neat little thing to look out for.
Aside from all the praise, I should admit that there were a couple of plot points that confused me. Kai goes out of his way to save a blind beggar from the mud, and it seems like the beggar might be important. But when Kai and Zawa show up at the orc camp, the beggar is nowhere to be seen. That doesn’t mean he isn’t around, but it’s a little uncertain if he has a larger part to play or if he was just a side story.
Also, Skirnir seems a bit cocky toward the end, especially someone who’s supposed to be as wise as he is. He talks like himself in front of the Overq’sai, which sort of puts a dent in his disguise. He also doesn’t seem too afraid of what is supposed to be a major, scary villain. Again, I don’t know if I might be wrong about this criticism—for all I know, Skirnir already has a plan in the works for his escape. It’s just a little hard to figure out his motivation at the end.
Finally, the Overq’sai’s motivation is also somewhat unclear at this juncture. Supposedly, he wants to make the world a better place, and the problem is simply that he’s kind of a jerk in how he goes about it (i.e. killing everyone who doesn’t share his vision). But despite his overly strict morals, he doesn’t just turn them on those who are neutral—we actually see him punish his own men for being too aggressive. There’s a part of me that thinks he might have some ulterior motives we haven’t learned yet, but at the moment he seems to be all about severe justice. It falls into a moral grey area that people of certain political views might almost be inclined to support.
Overall, I, Mage #2 is an extremely well-done comic. With the exception of a few plot points that confused me (and only when I reconsidered them upon a second reading), everything about it is thoroughly enjoyable. Only two issues in (technically three if you count I, Mage #0), it already feels like a huge world with all sorts of complicated politics and arcane elements driving unseen forces we’ve only begun to discover. That’s a brilliant accomplishment for such a young series, and I sincerely hope that Action Lab will keep it going for quite some time to come.
I, Mage #2 is on shelves now. For a digital copy, check it out on comiXology for only $1.99.