Posted by Jennifer
Disclaimer: While I’ve generally tried to avoid reviewing books produced in the X-office during my summer internship, Mystic is a book I feel so strongly about that I’m making an exception. I also have very little connection to it – I did not see anything but cover images in advance, I didn’t contribute anything to it, and I don’t know any spoilers. I am reading it purely as a fan, albeit a fan who has worked with the editor.
There’s a narrative trope I love, the kind of thing that always seems to pop up in the unlikeliest of places and leaves me delighted every time. In that narrative, two opposite figures (usually friends doomed to become rivals) struggle to reconcile their personalities with their goals. One figure is naturally talented, but rebellious – they could rise to the top if they weren’t their own worst enemy, unable or unwilling to follow social and practical conventions. The other figure is ambitious but inadequate, the kind of person who studies and practices to an extent that their opposite neither wants nor needs to do, and is willing to bend to any restrictive social rule if it will help them cover up their lack of natural talent.
This story recurs throughout fiction – Elphaba and Galinda in Wicked come to mind as an especially clear example – and it’s also a popular media narrative about celebrities, from the pop princess era of Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears to the figure skating showdown between Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek. But it’s not a trope I’ve seen very often in comics, which is why Mystic, by G. Willow Wilson and David Lopez, is such a pleasant surprise.
Mystic, one of a number of current Marvel miniseries based on defunct CrossGen titles, is the kind of book that could grab even the most reluctant of potential readers – particularly women. It requires no prior knowledge to enjoy, since it has little to do with its original incarnation and it exists in its own universe, and it features women as writer, editor (the fabulous Jeanine Schaefer, of Girl Comics), and cover artist (the inimitable Amanda Conner). But most important are the female protagonists and their story, which, after two issues, is unfolding as a creative and intriguing twist on my beloved opposites trope.
Genevieve (Viv) and Giselle are teenage girls and best friends who live in an orphanage in Hyperion, a society of rigid class divisions and alchemical magic. Forced to spend their days washing laundry in scalding water, they find release by secretly studying aristocrat-restricted magic at night. Viv is the hard-working, ambitious sort – the Britney Spears, the Evan Lysacek – and she dreams of going to the palace to gain an apprenticeship in the Noble Arts. Hot-tempered Giselle, meanwhile, can barely go a day without getting in a fight and treats alchemy as merely a hobby. And so, of course, when they do get to the palace, the unthinkable happens – Viv is utterly dismissed, and Giselle falls into an apprenticeship without even trying.
There’s a lot to love in the first issue alone. David Lopez’s art, most recently seen in the Hawkeye and Mockingbird series, is perfect for this story, cartoony and almost
Disney-like in its strong character acting and lush in its depiction of an alternate historical fantasy world. And the characters themselves fit their archetypes perfectly, from their dialogue to their visual designs (dark-haired tomboy Giselle and idealistic redhead Viv, a regular Little Orphan Annie). But it’s the second issue that really starts to show off Wilson’s worldbuilding talents, mixing a fantasy quest/doomsday plot with a keen depiction of class difference and its resulting conflict. As Giselle tries (and mostly fails) to fit into the snooty world of the palace, Viv finds herself thrust in the middle of a brewing proletariat rebellion, effectively pitting her against her former friend. The second issue also introduces characters of color in various supporting roles, and almost all of the important characters are women with distinct and different visual designs and personalities – a refreshing change of pace from most mainstream comics.
I’ve never followed Wilson’s work before, but if Mystic ends as well as it’s begun, I know hers is a name I’ll be paying much closer attention to in the future. For now, I encourage anyone who might be remotely interested in this kind of story to give it a try – either in issues, which might still be on the stands at your local comic shop, or in the inevitable trade. If you’ve been craving a book about magic, female friendship, plucky orphans, class conflict, or the talent divide between opposites, I assure you that this comic is where you want to be. I know there’s a market for female-driven fantasy adventure stories from mainstream comic book publishers, and as a way of testing the waters for that market, Mystic couldn’t be better. It’s more than worth your $2.99.
By Jennifer Margret Smith