Magic the Gathering (#1 – 6) – Jed MacKay

2 out of 5

It’s good level-setting to state that I’m not a Magic fan – I don’t follow the property at all – and not, especially, a fantasy fan. The first few pages of Jed MacKay’s Magic comic series are part of why I’m not a fantasy fan: it’s an exposition dump talking about the main location of our story, Ravnica, and talking up multiverses, and then brief profiles on our three lead characters. This is told in the poetic and terminology-tinged tongue typical of fantasy – e.g. “The resplendent, golden cities of Femeref, most beautiful in all Dominaria,” – and it’s voiceover-boxed across pages of, y’know, genre stuff: dragons, and sprawling cities, and people in cloaks. It’s just not my scene.

On the one hand, I shouldn’t rate something based on it being ‘not my scene,’ and if these are truly fantasy artifacts, then MacKay and artist Ig Guara porting them over to a comic book could be praised for remaining true to the style. On the other hand, I’m a believer in format-specificity, and I just did not find the construction of these comics to be particularly engrossing, from the front-loaded introductory text scrawl, to the lack of effective character introductions, to the flat, issue-ending non-cliffhangers. The story is not uninteresting, and MacKay writes well, giving characters their own voices and doing a good job of keeping the lore graspable, but it’s not something that demands reading the next issue – there’s no real sense of the level of import of things. And unfortunately, while I appreciate Guara’s character models, and their pages are clean, they use a very sketchy line which does not enhance the “immediacy” of any given image; Arianna Consonni’s mid-range, glossy colors do the same.

Three planeswalkers – universe-hopping, uber-powerful magicians – are attacked by assassins of unknown origin, the events bringing this trio of ill-matched figures together to suss out the shared source of the attack. You have a science type; a thief-y battler type; and a tuff medusa type; they butt heads at first but grudgingly investigate the matter together, trying to convince the larger Ravnica counsel of a looming threat. But since they can’t yet identify what that threat actually is – these issues track their clue-hunting across different realms – the counsel is doubtful.

Our uber-powerful magicians are, y’know, uber-powerful – the battles into which they’re inserted and the assassination attempts are no sweat. And beyond wanting to revenge themselves, the need to track down the Why behind the What isn’t necessarily clear – it doesn’t feel like there’s a need, for these individuals or for the sake of Ravnica, to deal with it. It’s just, like, a given that we’re supposed to figure this out. That “given” may be from Magic the Gathering background that I’m missing: the story feels like its making assumptions at all points – that these characters are inherently interesting; that the names of various baddies inspire some sense of awe or terror; that the slick use of magic is automatically impressive. And again, these assumptions feel doubled-down by the art: the land doesn’t look majestic and massive, but it’s what comes with the territory; spells aren’t really all that unique or impressive on their own, but our magicians waggle their eyes like they are.

For comparison, there’s a flashback sequence in issue 6 that felt stronger than the surrounding narrative because it’s isolated – it’s new information (or it’s presented as new information) regarding one specific character, and is drawn / colored by French Carlomagno / Francesco Segala, who use a more confident line and a more direct palette. Paired with MacKay’s general skills with pacing and dialogue, this flashback worked for me, and made clearer what I felt wasn’t driving me through the other issues.