You may have noticed that fantasy has eaten up a big piece of pop culture in the last decade or so, thanks to Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. It’s permeated pop culture to the point that it’s actually cool to like this stuff! Enter Umbral, a new dark fantasy from Image Comics. Is it good?
Umbral #1 (Image Comics)
Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for good fantasy. My friend introduced me to modern fantasy novels about four years ago and I’ve read as many series as I can get my grubby mitts on. I’ve dabbled in Tolkien too, but I’ve always wanted more of this stuff in the visual mediums.
With that out of the way, how dark and fantastic is this book? Pretty darn dark, and I’m not just talking the colors, which use dark shadows and deep purples. The issue opens with a girl running away from some nightmare creatures and quickly cuts to 20 minutes prior. We get the 411 on what her deal is, but moreso about the kings and queens of her city. An eclipse is on the way and our female protagonist, named Rascal, meets up with the prince to scope out the lunar event. Unfortunately for them, there are some dark spirits on the prowl this night and they want power. Power that Rascal just so happens to have.
Writer Antony Johnston, known for his work on Wasteland, does a bang-up job on all levels here. At first the misdirection of the ending, namely jumping to the king and queen, threw me off. To open a book and then flash forward is a bit of a cheat—let’s be honest—but if anything, by issue’s end I wanted to read the damn thing again! There are a few things Johnston nails: first off is the idea that anything can happen. Characters can die, the same characters that are heroes in other fantasy series. He also gets the dialogue right, making it natural and dirty, just like in real life.
The real joy of this issue though is how Johnston peels back the onion of his story ever so slightly, never giving too much away, but always keeping our interest. The characters are fun and alive, the atmosphere and world is interesting and the bad guys are ever-so-bad and creepy without much in the way of backstory. I want to learn more about this world and you will too by the time you’re done.
The art by Christopher Mitten is quite good as well. His monsters are very chaotic and strange, giving them a, dare I say, Jim Henson look. I kept thinking Dark Crystal or Labyrinth while reading this book, which is a good example of nostalgia coming in and mucking things up, but it’s meant to be as endearing a compliment as possible. The characters are crisp is real, with atmosphere and backgrounds that imbue a dreamlike quality. The style of Mitten suits the dread and evil that seems to permeate behind the scenes. Plus it comes with a map!
I’m not sure who the letterer is on this book. It lists a “flourisher” as Thomas Maur, which I guess could be letterer? Either way, the monsters have an amazing thick inky lettering that makes it hard to read, but not so hard that it’s impossible to read. It gives them a layer of evil and mystery that’s pretty cool.
- Impeccable introductory issue
- Looks great and intros the world perfectly
- Starts off a little awkward but kicks in quickly
Is It Good?
Kudos to this team for creating a fantasy series worth reading with a female protagonist! That’s a rare thing indeed. I’m not sure what is going on exactly at this juncture, but I want to learn because he world and characters are so damn vivid.