Back in the fey-fighting game for the first time in almost a decade, Kevin Matchstick finds things much more complicated with a family to defend.  But a familiar face from his past is about to return…  Your Major Spoilers review of Mage Book Three: The Hero Denied #5 awaits!


Writer: Matt Wagner
Artist: Matt Wagner
Colorist: Brennan Wagner
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Editor: Diana Schutz
Publisher: Image Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously in Mage Book Three: The Hero Denied: “After running a decoy mission to draw his enemies’ attention away from his home and family, Kevin Matchstick finds himself facing off with an extremely powerful opponent.  Ereshkigal, queen of the Babylonian underworld, answers the Umbra Sprite’s summons in order to wreak her vengeance on Kevin’s other avatar identity, The Sumerian.  Their ferocious battle ends when Kevin unleashes a mighty blast from his weapon, Excalibur.  Shaken and bloodied, Kevin angrily tries to invoke aid from the still missing World-Mage, but, once again, his pleas remain unanswered…”


I’m not gonna lie: I consider the first volume of Mage (The Hero Discovered) to be one of comics’ rare masterpieces, even better now that it has had time to age.  With a protagonist who ages pretty much in real-time, Kevin’s adventures have always felt somehow more… real?  This issue opens with a flashback to those heady days when the power was new, his bat was glowing and he had a headful of hair, not to mention Mirth the World-Mage helping him along.  This turns out to be a story that Kevin is telling his son Hugo, who has recently discovered that magic is real and Dad is steeped in it, and he’s naturally super-excited about it.  Elsewhere, the awful Umbra-Mother awakens from a long slumber to find that her daughters (terrifying demihuman monsters) have continued her plot to find the Fisher King, creating a false charity in the hopes of finding him.  When Kevin goes searching for more information, haunting the book stores of Seattle, he runs into an old friend, Joe Phat, who brings bad news.  Kirby Hero is dead, and Kevin has to deal with the realization that lives like his can end badly.  For old times sake, Joe and Kevin sniff out (literally) one of the many otherworldly monsters that keep popping up, with Kevin stunned to find that it is… a Questing Beast!


I don’t know what that is, mind you, but the story successfully and effortlessly communicates it as something truly amazing and/or terrifying.  This issue is unnerving to me, not just as a middle-aged man who keeps finding that old friends have suddenly passed away without me even knowing it, but because a little part of me thinks that this isn’t Joe Phat at all.  This issue is almost all quiet conversations and plot-advancement, but nothing feels slow or boring about it.  The return of Joe Phat is (a little bit too) welcome, and the implication that Magda has finally completed the potion that will allow her to once and for all protect her home and family from fey intrusions is slipping in almost as an aside, making me worry that their happy home is about to get much less so.  (Next issue’s blurb promises as much.)  Wagner’s art in this issue is lovely, especially a “wide shot” that shows the city under a warm morning sun, but the unexpected return of Mirth-in-memory is even more so.  Matt has crafted this sequence intentionally to resemble the art style he used back in the 80s, making for a flashback that feels more like a lost chapter of the original first volume.


As an avowed Wagner fanboy since late in high school, I admit that I may be biased, but this issue (indeed, all the issues in this volume) have been wonderful and expertly crafted.  Mage Book Three: The Hero Denied #5 gives us some unexpected returns, some beautiful art and a masterful advancement of the story, with just enough discomfort to remind me that the title implies bad things for Mister Matchstick, earning 5 out of 5 stars overall.  You don’t have to be a lifelong fan of the book to enjoy it (Wagner makes sure that everything fits into place and gets explanation) but as one who is, this issue doesn’t disappoint at all…


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About Author

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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