Saturday, May 26, 2018

Mage: Homeward bound

It's always been a maddening wait between volumes of Matt Wagner's Mage series - more than a decade between the first two, and nearly two decades between the next - which is only to be expected when the story is so nakedly autobiographical.

The Mage comics have demons and gnomes and succubi and weird harbingers of the hunt, but Wagner has always made it clear that the greater themes - and some very specific characters - are inspired by the events and people in his own life. When you nail your own existence to a fictional character like that, it takes time to build up enough of a life to make a worthwhile story.

Wagner has always said he would only do Mage again when the time felt right, and he wasn't going to be rushed into it, living his life and producing an extraordinary amount of licensed comics instead. He's now returned to his most personal work for the third and final time, and his fictional alter-ego is now in a very different place.

Kevin Matchstick isn't not the cocky young punk of the first series, or even the grown-ass dude of the second, struggling with his first real experiences of loss and responsibility. Instead, he's a family man, with a kid to look after, and a loving wife to come home to.

He can still wield Excalibur with furious abandon and he can still stomp any beastie that messes with him, but the more Kevin fights, the more monsters he attracts, and he just wants them to piss off so he can get on with his proper life.

This intrusion of supernatural creepiness into the comforting world of dull suburbia gives the third Mage comic a new weight that the previous two series lacked, because they were all about the times in your life when everything is fast and exciting, and this new one is about the time when you just want to chill the hell out most of the time.

In fact, the most interesting part of the new series isn't the fantastic battles, or the machinations of the big nasty, or the ongoing search for the Fisher King, or even the return of old comrades - it's this determination to have something resembling  normal life and the universal feeling that having to move home is a pain in the ass.

A similar thing happened in the Orphan Black TV show - all the weird clone conspiracies were fairly dull and forgettable, but the scenes involving Alison's efforts to keep a suburban home together through the power of shared homicide were always the best.

This is the last Mage story and after all his battles, Kevin deserves some kind of a rest. We're onl halfway through the series, so he's got to face a few more mystical trials and tribulations before he gets to put his feet up, but the end is coming. Wagner deserves the break too.

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