The Castoffs (#1 – 4) – MK Reed, Brian Smith

3 out of 5

It’s rough around the edges, but Castoffs takes a good first step forward in its initial arc toward some sci-fi / fantasy world-building goodness, given a non-grating YA gloss from writers MK Reed , Brian Smith, and the diversity-mindful Lions Forge publishing crew.  Lest you roll your eyes at the very concept, this is exactly what I feel is the best approach to diversity in comics: Just include the characters.  Castoffs isn’t about a black girl, an Indian girl, an Asian girl, etc., it’s about a trio of magic apprentices, tasked with a potion-delivering mission, and said apprentices happen to be of (visually) mixed backgrounds, body types, and personalities.  There’s no mention of relationships – boyfriends or girlfriends – or gender commentary asides; there is the story, the character interaction it encourages, and the generally organic dialogue that emerges from that.  It completely normalizes these characters, which is essentially what I think diverse casting should do.  So kudos on that to Lions Forge, and on Castoffs’ creative team for keeping the focus on their story, which keeps it generally engaging throughout.

As the apprentices set off, we learn a bit about the world in which this is taking place – in which humans developed massive machines, I.e. Surrogates, so as not to rely on Magic users, only to have the machines eventually rear up and revolt – and are brought too wonder why all the inhabitants of the city to which our leads were tasked would uproot and travel to a place called The Silver on the whim of a visiting Priestess.  The youngsters, being youngsters, decide to buck authority and go investigate The Silver themselves.

Artist Molly Ostertag delivers well effected character design which instantly captures the personalities and nuanced emotions of the back and forth repartee the three leads have as they somewhat peck at one another in getting-to-know-you sessions as their quest proceeds.  Lion Forge’s production is crisp and bright, allowing the warm colors to really shine, and for the subtleties of D.C. Hopkins’ lettering to sell the dialogue intonation.  The story itself suffers from some odd pacing and a lack of clarity (how things proceed from A to B) during the climactic scenes – which the art unfortunately doesn’t assist, completely underselling the sequences and, based on descriptions of what happened in the following issue, not really accurately depicting what was perhaps desired – but this somewhat amateurish vibe is buffered by the imagination and consideration shown in the general Castoffs world design, as well as the credit earned from the well-developed and endearing leads.

So it’s off to a good start, carving out some actual unique territory in the YA sci-fi genre, with good indications that things will only get better going forward.