(Image Comics, 2013)
Review by Jeremiah Kielman
Written by Antony Johnston
Artwork by Christopher Mitten
Did you play D&D as a kid (no you say-what are you doing here?)? Remember drawing a map on a scrap of graph paper on a cold winter evening and peopling it over the next few hours amazed at the power of a pencil and imagination combined? Well it seems to me that Anthony Johnson and Christopher Mitten have rediscovered that sense of wonder in their new book; Umbral. Hell there is even a map, no doubt conceived on a scrap of graph paper, in the first issue.
The first words in the series are, “When the bards sing songs of my life, they probably won’t mention this part. The part where I fell into the Umbral and couldn’t get out.”. These words are spoken by Rascal, the heroine of our tale. It’s obvious that she thinks herself destined for greatness, the bards don’t sing of the life of peasants and thieves. At least not normally.
But this particular story isn’t all happy thoughts of a youth well misspent in parent’s basements with a bag of dice. No this book is an exploration of fear. The unreasoning fear of children, when you just know that there is something in your darkened room with you. You can hear it’s raspy breath when you lay stone still under the covers. Out of the corner of your eye you can see it move amidst the shadows.
Moreover, it is an opus on the fear called prejudice. A fear of peoples unknown, different. In this case it is mages who suffer the indignities instant judgement. At one point Rascal is asked if magic is illegal she replies; “It’s about the only thing more illegal than religion. Everyone knows that.” Rascal is truly terrified of spellcasters as we see over and over in the two issues we’ve seen so far.
In the second issue we watch as Rascal runs and falls, and falls, and falls again. With lots of running in between falls. The Redguards are after her under orders from a shadow demon who has taken the form of her master at the Thieves Guild. The dirty tramp who saved her from capture and speaks too well for a bum is also following her despite her protests. Even though he saves her again by pretending to be a wizard he used arcane words he shouldn’t know while doing so and she freaks (like I said prejudice of mages is epidemic in scale).
Despite her fears she takes him with her to a smugglers secret lair only to find them all dead. The demons are a step ahead of her again. And that is where we leave the little Rascal until next month.
If you were a fan of their last project, Wasteland, then I think you will enjoy this book. If you were a gamer nerd, then I think you will enjoy this book. If you enjoy dark fantasy, then you will enjoy this book. If you are a soulless automaton, you will not enjoy this book (or anything else in life). Read it. You’ll like it.