Or – “It’s Either Irony, Or Poetic Justice, I Can’t Remember Which…”

There’s great irony in the fact that I, who kind of hate spoilers in practice, work at a site with a name like this.  It’s not really as weird as you might think, though, in that I find that most works are not affected by spoilering their endings.  There are a few notable exceptions (The Usual Suspects, Citizen Kane, and a few others) to that rule, though, including the book we’re about to discuss.  What Kevin Matchstick discovers due to the tragic events of this issue constitutes one of the few real thunderbolt revelations in my history of reading comics, and I have gone out of my way in the years since I first read this book to maintain as much of the mystery as possible.  As my Major Spoilers Anniversary week continues, we all must ask that musical question:  Can we discuss a book that had such a profound impact on me without actually talking specifically about a major plot point?

Oughtta be fun to find out…

Mage: The Hero Discovered #13
Script: Matt Wagner
Pencils: Sam Kieth
Inks: Matt Wagner
Colors: Matt Wagner
Letters: Bob Pinaha
Publisher: Comico, The Comics Company

Previously, on Mage – The Hero Discovered:  Kevin Matchstick is your garden variety outsider, the kind of guy who bums from job to job and town to town, never quite fitting in anywhere he goes.  That makes the eventual appearance of homeless wizard Mirth in his life such a strange occurance, and his being thrust into a shadowy world filled with mythological creatures makes it even weirder.  Forced to face the menace of the Grackleflints and their mysterious father, Kevin and his associates (Mirth, lawyer Sean Knight and the young lady named Edsel) serve as the defenders of the human realm against incursion from without.  After a successful attack on his stronghold, Papa Grac summoned a dragon (!!) to attack Kevin and Co., and Sean gave his life to save his friends even as Kevin took a poisoned elbow spike to the chest, a wound that could hardly be anything but fatal.

We open as Kevin opens his eyes from unconsciousness…

This whole sequence is beautifully conceptualized, with the strange green energy that represents Mirth’s magic encircling everything, and the characters appearing in high-contrast in the foreground, while the dialogue and events cross and overlap through the sea of magic.  Matt Wagner’s quirky art really lends itself to the black with highlights technique used, and the four pages in the realm of magic are some of the most fascinatingly constructed comics work I’ve encountered.  We find that Kevin has been sleeping for A YEAR (!!!) to clear away the venom of the Grackleflint, but that things on the outside haven’t progressed much beyond it.  Traveling across/through/between the dimension, Mirth and Kevin find Edsel waiting for him, with her signature ride…

Matchstick laments the blood on his hands as they make their way to the casino that serves as the villains headquarters.  There’s a sublimated tension in this sequence that I initially believed was due to unresolved romantic something-or-other between Kevin and Edsel (a concept that I’m not entirely sure that I was on board for.)  Exiting the magic dimension, Kevin is suddenly ambushed by a man who has been lurking between the panels of the book for several months, a man who has been given his own magic weapon, this one a staple-gun.  (Heh.)  If you read the books in order, the appearances of this character seem like a non-sequitur, but his sudden entrance into the main story is dramatic and perfectly timed.  One shot of his magic Swingline stapler blows off Mirth’s leg (sort of) leaving Kevin and Edsel stunned…

Trying to protect Kevin, Edsel leaps forward to confront their attacker, and is herself gutshot by the madman.  (He really is insane, by the way, which is how he even has any idea that magic exists.)  Seeing his best friends blasted so soon (subjectively speaking) after Sean Knight’s death sets Kevin off, and the Hero Discovered leaps forward to the attack, his mystic weapon in hand…

Holy.  $#!+.  Kevin seems surprised as his enemy’s heads rolls away down the alleyway, and roars his frustration, flinging the bat into a dumpster and wedging it deep in the steel.  Surrounded by death, Kevin cries out to Mirth. “Heal her!  What the hell are you waiting for?”  Mirth sadly explains that he cannot help her this time.  Kevin refuses to believe him, but Mirth explains that he has seen this moment coming, that he knew Edsel’s death was coming as he could foresee the outcome of their battle.  Kevin takes  frustrated swing at his magical mentor, and the sheer frustration and rage in his face is a testament to Wagner’s artistic talents…

Mirth’s previous strange prognostications come back to Kevin, and he realizes again that magic is much more (and, sadly, much less) than he ever thought it would.  A dying Edsel calls him over, having realized what is REALLY happening, and remembering when Mirth foretold that she would be the cause of Kevin’s knowing the truth…  She tells him that he has felt the real nature of what is occurring, that he, like she, has come to the point where the other shoe drops.  She pulls him closer, calling him ‘My Lord’ before whispering in his ear and dying in his arms.  Kevin’s light-hearted adventure story has again gathered a body count, and even Mirth the happy-go-lucky street performer has become something different…  something MORE.

PLEASE DO NOT REVEAL THE UNREVEALED CONTENT IN THE COMMENTS!

With his knight and his lady-in-waiting now dead, the Hero Discovered must take up arms and face a nearly unbeatable foe.  It’s a goosebump-inducing moment for me, even now, but the first time I read the story, I was poleaxed by the revelation of what Kevin Matchstick really is.  Edsel’s death is one of the catalyzing moments in this story, and best of all, she doesn’t go “Girlfriend In Refigerator.”  Edsel goes out fighting to save her friend and her death completely reconceptualizes a story that has been going on for over 12 issues, and is classically tragic in its inevitability.  Having read the book from the beginning, the last panels of issue #13 cast a whole new light on what had gone before, and stands out as one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) surprise ending in my personal comic book reading experience.  Matt Wagner’s Mage is a very personal work (Kevin’s resemblance to his creator is absolutely intentional, and things in Matt’s life are mirrored in Kev’s) and one that hasn’t seen a lot of accolades in recent years.  The second volume, The Hero Defined, came out around the turn of the century, and the promised third arc is in the works, but nothing will ever be as amazing, as catastrophic, as beautiful as the first time you read the story.  I seriously have to convince Steve and ‘Rigo to read this thing as a TPB review of the week, and also to try and shield them from improper spoilers.  This book is comics done right, period.  Mage: The Hero Discovered #13 is a bitterweet shocker, but a transformative experience for character, creator and reader, earning 5 out of 5 stars overall.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do so, NOW.

Rating: ★★★★★

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Can you know spoilers without a story being spoiled?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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15 Comments

  1. J Michael T
    October 13, 2010 at 6:53 pm — Reply

    Aahh! I need to know!

    Yes, I dont mind knowing spoilers because I enjoy the story from start to finish as opposed to as a buildup to the “spoiler”. Having said that, I can think back to some spoilers (say The Usual Suspects) where I was glad I didn’t know :-) At 13 I almost fell out of my seat hearing Darth Vader’s revelation to Luke. Some spoilers just shouldn’t be known beforehand. It really depends on the quality of the story, I guess.

  2. Josh Mayfield
    October 13, 2010 at 7:30 pm — Reply

    I dunno about Rodrigo, but I bet you could convince Stephen to read this, as he can get it for his iPad. Convince him to get the Hero Defined too, while you’re at it.

  3. Antonio Sanciolo
    October 13, 2010 at 7:40 pm — Reply

    Heh…
    “You are the SPOILERATION”!
    I’m pretty happy with that being the actual line.

  4. Chuck's Right Foot
    October 13, 2010 at 7:44 pm — Reply

    This one’s not to difficult to figure out what is being reference from some of the visuals, but I understand wanting to keep THE major plot point from being spoiled.

  5. tidge
    October 13, 2010 at 8:31 pm — Reply

    The answer to the Faithful Spoilerite question is “Yes”. If the story has a lot going for it, even knowing the “spoiler” is not going to ruin the piece of art in question.

    That being said, some things are best enjoyed with a sense of wonder. I don’t think that the MAGE (*spoiler*) is really that big a deal…it wouldn’t take much to *spoil* this secret by comparing it with a handful of (at the time) recent comic series, or books, or PBS interview series….none of which I will mention because that would be enough to spoil the reveal.

    Steven and Rodrigo should read it…if only because they will never know the true identity of the “Bat Man”……gah forgive me!

  6. October 13, 2010 at 9:10 pm — Reply

    I know who he is and what the weapon is and I’ll say that the hero and weapon have been used a lot in fiction. I’ll say nothing more out of respect.

    Can a spoiler ruin a story? Depends on the spoiler and the person. If the story hinges on a cleaver swerve and you spoil the swerve; then you’re expecting the swerve and won’t have the same shock. If you’re someone who can appreciate the setup; you’ll still enjoy the story. If however your whole interest is just the knowledge the spoiler will bring; the spoiler will ruin the fun.

    To me, as long as the story is good, I’ll be able to weather most spoilers with a shrug.

  7. October 14, 2010 at 11:56 am — Reply

    One of my favorite comics ever, if not the top one. Read it when it first came out, and was blown away. Before that i was mostly Xmen and such, Mage showed me it could be deeper.

    For me, if the story is any good it doesn’t matter if you know the ending, it’s the journey that really matters. Too many comics and movies lately are all about the “twist”, and some times make you feel cheated because they spend so much time and effort tying to trick you. Mage didn’t, it told a great story, and gets even deeper when you know what was going on.

  8. October 14, 2010 at 12:42 pm — Reply

    Stop giving me things to hunt down & read with this anniversary celebration; I have enough on my plate, and that’s not counting the looming NaNoWriMo. I don’t want a hat trick of failure years.

    I’m with MaximumRift; it all depends on what’s being spoiled and the story itself. If it’s a spoiler that would undermine the entire point of the story & take away all emotional heft (which is definitely what it looks like you’re hiding here), then I’d rather not know. Other times, knowing the spoiler makes me more excited to read it & see what it takes to get the plot/characters to that point.

    • October 14, 2010 at 1:32 pm — Reply

      Stop giving me things to hunt down & read with this anniversary celebration; I have enough on my plate, and that’s not counting the looming NaNoWriMo. I don’t want a hat trick of failure years.

      That’s why I’m here, ma’am. :)

  9. Adam
    October 14, 2010 at 1:14 pm — Reply

    hmmm… never read it and I’m not sure I would have figured it out without all the “helpful” hints from the majorspoilerites…

    Sorry Matthew, it seems like it HAS been spoiled for me now :(

  10. Alan
    October 14, 2010 at 2:34 pm — Reply

    Here’s a question I have — while I respect that this is your house and your rules, is it really reasonable to view the revelation of a plot point to be a spoiler for a comic that was published in 1986, particular since it is almost impossible to discuss any aspect of the more recent sequel series without knowledge of the aforementioned spoiler. Should we also refrain from any discussion of “Citizen Kane” that might reveal that “Rosebud” was actually [SPOILER]? Or any discussion of “Psycho” that reveals to the uninitiated that Norman’s [SPOILER] was actually [SPOILER]?

    • October 14, 2010 at 3:06 pm — Reply

      Well, that is the question, isn’t it? I chose not to spoiler here but mileage does vary… Reasonable is as reasonable does after all.

      • Alan
        October 16, 2010 at 3:32 pm — Reply

        True. Of course, what makes it really ironic is the final issue of The Hero Defined, in which we learn that [SPOILER] is not actually [SPOILER] but is in fact [SPOILER], which changes one’s entire understanding of both series.:)

  11. Snap Wilson
    October 16, 2010 at 2:05 pm — Reply

    I never got into Mage, as the whole “writing a character that’s based on you only with cool super-powers and turns out to be [SPOILER]” turned me off as it smacked too much of nerdy wish-fulfillment. That shouldn’t have kept me away, because the motives, whatever they may have been, aren’t indicative of the result, which I understand was pretty good, and Wagner was definitely a top-notch artist.

    Inevitably, the problem with mysteries is that they eventually have to be solved. I already know the secrets behind Mage’s spoileration (a friend of mine was a huge fan) and it didn’t really knock my socks off, but maybe it has more resonance if you’ve read the whole series.

  12. March 23, 2014 at 12:02 am — Reply

    This reminded me of “Birmingham Sunday”. Carolyn Esther Williams aka Edsel died on Monday Night, September 15, 1986 in the line of duty. However it was her passing that made Kevin the hero. The comment about Kevin’s innocence died with Edsel reminded me of one saying the deaths of The 4 Little Girls of Birmingham, Alabama cost America’s credibility to the so called free world. 50 years later the 4 Little Girls got a posthumous award for their demise being killed in their church. I hope Matt Wagner will honor Edsel’s Memory in a similar day. After all she ended up like The 4 Little Girls & her date of death was September 15, 1986
    Marcus Brainard

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