Writer & Artist: Matt Wagner
Colors: Brennan Wagner
Letters: David Lanphear
In 1985 my father decided that it was time for a change and he took a new job in Indiana. I wasn’t completely surprised since this was my third move and I was only eleven. What I was concerned with was the fact that my parents decided to buy a house on a lake in the middle of nowhere. For a young comic fan that had just discovered a comic shop near where we were living I was worried about where I would get my books. Was it back to the spinner racks at grocery stores (yes) or would I have to give up comics (hell no)? Luckily I persevered and overcame the adversity because of two wonderful occurrences. One I had a bike and two miles from my house was a mini-mart with a huge spinner rack. Two, my brother needed braces and the orthodontist my parents selected happened to be near a strip mall in a town an hour away that had a comic shop so I got a monthly trip as he needed monthly checkups.
1985 was also the year that a small independent publisher, Comico, decided to take a stab at the newsstand market. On one of my bike trips I picked up a copy of Robotech: the Macross Saga since I liked big robots and space. In the back of that book was an advertisement for a book that I became fascinated with before I even read an issue, Mage: the Hero Discovered. When I next got to the comic shop I was disappointed to find that they were sold out of Mage. Then I did something that would horrify me today. I cut out an order form in the back of one of my Robotech comics and ordered what Comico called their Magebook, which was just a cheaply bound collection of the first few issues of the title. I waited weeks but finally I got a crumpled envelope in the mail and inside was my mangled copy. I didn’t care as I read and reread the issues and fell in love with the story.
Mage: the Hero Discovered is the tale of Kevin Matchstick. As the story begins Kevin is an ordinary twenty-something working a meaningless job and unsure of his future until he meets the magician Mirth and learns that he is destined to be a hero. Kevin discovers he has super powers and is meant to protect the earth from mystical enemies, most notably in this volume the Umbra Sprite and his ‘sons’ the Gracklefints. Over the course of fifteen issues Kevin and Mirth, along with there allies Sean, who is a Ghost, and Edsel, a street tough vigilante who is gifted a magic baseball bat take the war to the Umbra Sprite that culminates in one of the most gratifying single issues I have ever read. By the time issue 15 arrived I had pieced together the entire series and read it over and over again, especially when the Arthurian legend of the reincarnated Pendragon, Excalibur, and Merlin were revealed as that was very much in my wheelhouse at the time. I even obtained a black Mage T-shirt with a white lightning bolt on it and wore it to rags.
But then Mage was gone. We got a beautiful back up tale in Matt Wagner’s other Comico book Grendel (issues #16-19) and we were promised a second volume soon after. But Comico went bankrupt. Ironically what had introduced them to me was what did them in as the mainstream new market had over extended their resources and they were unable to meet their financial obligations. Unlike independent publishers like Image today Comico had co-copyrighted many of their creator titles and the ownership rights fell into legal limbo. Matt Wagner went on to work for Dark Horse and Vertigo while behind the scenes was working to obtain his ownership rights, which he eventually did. Grendel remerged first with the wonderful Grendel: War Child storyline published over the course of 10 issues by Dark Horse and then the Batman/Grendel prestige format series were finally released and I was happy to read these great stories but part of me still wanted to know where Mage was. Then as I was beginning my final year as an undergrad in 1998, it was revealed that Mage: the Hero Defined was finally going to be released from Image Comics. I got excited but also nervous. Could it hold up to my expectations? Would early 20s me enjoy a sequel to a comic I feel in love with before I was a teenager? Could Matt Wagner find that spark again? The answer to all three was yes.
Mage: The Hero Defined found Kevin Matchstick in his thirties and comfortable, if not cocky, as the hero the world needs. Kevin (whose look is based on Matt Wagner) had aged, with a little less hair on top yet more mature and resigned to his quest. Joining Kevin in this issue were Joe Phat, who had a talent for sniffing out supernatural creatures, and Kirby Hero who was based on Hercules and rivaled Kevin as the Hero of the story. We also meet a new magician, Wally Ut, who Kevin wants nothing to do with, and a coven of witches known as the Weird Sisters, one of whom will become Kevin’s wife. Mage: the Hero Defined ran for 15 issues and took me out of college and into my first job then Graduate School. Matt Wagner’s style had evolved but the story was self-contained but still had the feel of the original Mage story and it was a beautiful story of acceptance. Kevin is at peace with who he is and has come a long way from the naïve hero he was so many years before.
Wagner went on to Dynamite where he worked on many of their pulp titles. Grendel continued periodically at Dark Horse but the promised third volume of Mage (it was always promised as three volumes) never seemed to appear. I went on to graduate from Grad school, got married, got divorced, got married again and now am in my early 40s and a husband with two young children when I first heard that Mage: the Hero Denied was coming. My excitement and fears returned. I’m thirty years removed from my first experience with Mage and I’m hopeful that it can live up to my expectations. If Mage: The Hero Denied #0 is the standard of the new series I feel my fears are unwarranted and that I am going to enjoy this final volume just as much as the first two.
Mage: the Hero Denied #0 is a short tale, an interlude between the second and third volumes. Kevin is showing his age and I find myself relating to him even more as I’ve now become a contemporary to Kevin. The beauty of comics is that I’ve caught up to Kevin and we’re now entering middle age together and we both have a sarcastic view of the next generation as well as a healthy fear of whether or not they can pick up the baton for the future. Mage #0 sees Kevin being introduced to a new hero, the Steeze, who is very full of himself and no doubt itching to post his exploits to Instagram and Twitter. The two heroes find themselves investigating the same supernatural phenomenon and Kevin is more then willing to let the young Steeze have the limelight and deal with the situation. With a short attention span and over inflated ego the Steeze does what he feels is the best job but nothing beats age and experience and by the end of the interlude Kevin is once again stepping up to be the hero the world needs.
I don’t know where Mage: the Hero Denied is going to take us but I’m very excited to find out. Mage is Matt Wagner’s very personal magnum opus and I’m glad that the concluding third volume is upon us. The art style is reminiscent of Mage: the Hero Defined but the writing is holding true to the story that began in Mage: the Hero Discovered #1. I’m hoping over the course of the next few months to reconnect with old friends as well as new allies and family. Mage: the Hero Denied will again be a fifteen issue series, just like it’s predecessors and will hopefully be a satisfying conclusion to the tale of Kevin Matchstick, which began thirty-three years ago.
Verdict: Mage is a must read for any fan of super heroes and mythology. Matt Wagner has crafted over the past thirty years a compelling story of a reluctant hero who has come to accept who and what he is. Mage the Hero Denied will conclude the tale of Kevin Matchstick and if Mage #0 is any indication then this third and last volume is a Buy! Thankfully if you are new to Matt Wagner’s Mage Image is rereleasing the previous two volumes in their collected editions so you can easily catch up, and believe me it is worth catching up with.