For wage-slave Sage of the Riverlands, life seems to be a never-ending conga line of dreadful days at her desk followed by evenings of mindless hanging around with little to make her parents proud or sate her desire for adventure. She recalls her youth, dreaming of following in the footsteps of the heroes in her books, only to fall into the same rut that captures so many, trudging to and from work with no clear purpose in front of her.
The millennial malaise is difficult enough without adding in the idea that the days of swords and sorcery were real and even still a part of everyday life. Wizards are still around, even if they won’t get their lazy boyfriend off your couch. Clerics run 12-hour shifts at the hospital while the descendants of great warriors slave away 9-5 in cubicles, destroying nothing bigger than an extra pastry at breakfast. Rafer Roberts and Kristen Gudsnuk have crafted an alternative to the escapist fantasy of most comics, weaving together the drudgery of stagnant careers with the promise of wonder and adventure.
In four issues, Roberts and Gudnuck have crafted a story that resonates with the times while offering a way out for those who feel trapped by the expectations of society. Sage wants to be an adventurer. Through no fault of her own, a true adventure lands in her lap complete with a mysterious amulet, deadly adversaries, and the chance of certain doom. With her friends and co-worker naturally making up a decent party, she’s off to save the world from evil. Against all odds, Sage’s faith in herself pays off.
This story could easily be told in our world, sans the giant fire demon. To some it may come off disingenuous to talk about the millennial condition in such stark terms, but the reality of the difficulty faced by this generation of twenty-and-thirty-somethings is rife with difficulties not faced by their parents. Sage works a dead-end job that is slowly killing her spirit while she dreams of adventure and following her dreams. The burnout wizard drifts from place to place with no real aim and no way to apply the skills he learned in college. The clerics work crushing shifts in hospitals and clinics. It is rare that a fantasy comic can be so real and relatable, but in the end, shouldn’t all fantasy have a dose of reality? Sage and her party, despite the species differences, are a fairly accurate representation of the diversity of population many see in their lives or seek for themselves. Anyone reading Modern Fantasy can find themselves represented by at least one major character.
Roberts and Gudnuck have tapped into the millennial condition and related it so clearly in Modern Fantasy. All of us want to live out our dreams and be our best selves. A solid paycheck would be nice, too. Sometimes it takes a battle with a Balrog to find out who we truly are. Once we find our best selves, though, what comes next? Only time (and Volume 2) will tell.