Roger’s Comic Ramblings: What I’ve Been Reading

Roger Ash

Roger Ash


by Roger Ash

The title of this column pretty much sums up what it is: I’m going to tell you about a couple comics I’ve read recently that I think deserve your attention, Bronze Age Boogie #1 and Mage: The Hero Denied. I’m going to try to keep this as spoiler free as possible, but some may slip through. Let’s get started, shall we?

Bronze Age Boogie #1

Bronze Age Boogie #1


First up is Bronze Age Boogie #1 by writer Stuart Moore and artist Alberto Ponticelli from AHOY Comics. The Bronze Age of comics is generally referred to as comics published in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Bronze Age Boogie #1 features story elements popular in ‘70s comics including Kung Fu, barbarians, magic, monsters, and Martians. The story is partly set in 1975 and partly in the past in what could be the historical Bronze Age.

In 1975, Martians are attacking and an organization run by talking apes is our only hope. Unfortunately, their resources aren’t what they used to be, so things don’t look good. The main part of the issue is set in the past and focuses on a barbarian princess named Brita Constantina. Her father is leading a barbarian horde against a group of evil wizards and a surprise foe. She’s as fierce a warrior as any other. Her companion/advisor is a talking ape from the future. So how do the stories from both eras come together? You’ll have to read the story to find out. The issue ends on cliffhanger and I look forward to seeing what happens next.

I grew up reading Bronze Age comics and Bronze Age Boogie feels like the sort of story that could have been written then. Aside from the ‘70s themes and general oddness of the story, Moore borrows some tropes from the era such as the illustrated text page. That said, this reads like a modern comic. For example, there are no thought balloons or text heavy captions that were common at the time but have fallen out of favor. Bottom line, the writing is a nice mix of old and new. The art by Ponticelli is fantastic and suits the story perfectly. He makes the weirdness seem normal and you really need someone who can do that in a story like this.

In addition to the main story, you also get Major Ursa, a fun backup story about a bear astronaut by Tyrone Finch and Mauricet, and two single page text stories. I love crazy comics like this and hope it garners the support it needs to carry on.

The cover to the first issue of Mage from 1984

The cover to the first issue of Mage from 1984


Now, we move on to Mage: The Hero Denied. But first, a little background. Mage was created by Matt Wagner in 1984, shortly after he created his popular character, Grendel. Mage is a more personal creation as the lead character, Kevin Matchstick, looks like Wagner and the story contains some biographical elements, though usually disguised. The story also takes place in real time so Matchstick looks like Wagner does whenever he’s working on the series. The plan was always to present the story as a trilogy, and that has come to fruition as the story has ended 35 years after it began. That’s some pretty hefty dedication for ya.

Mage: The Hero Defined #1

Mage: The Hero Defined #1


Mage is the story of Kevin Matchstick, the reincarnation of King Arthur Pendragon (sorta), who has a destiny to fulfill. There are three mages who will help him on his journey. In the first series, Mage: The Hero Discovered, Kevin learns of his destiny, meets companions Sean and Edsel (careful, she’ll break your heart), and encounters the first mage, Mirth. Mage: The Hero Defined arrived in 1997 and introduced the second mage, Wally Ut; some superhero type friends, Kirby Hero and Joe Phat; and introduced Kevin’s wife-to-be, the witch Magda. The series as a whole is an epic fantasy with a nice mix of magic, myth, and some superhero style action. If you’ve never read any of these stories, I highly recommend that you do. Image has released a nice, uniform series of trades collecting the complete series with volumes 1 and 2 collecting Mage: The Hero Discovered, volumes 3 and 4 collecting Mage: The Hero Defined, and volumes 5 and 6 collecting Mage: The Hero Denied. Let’s take a look at these last two volumes.

Mage: The Hero Denied #1

Mage: The Hero Denied #1


The Hero Denied begins 18 years after The Hero Defined and finds Kevin and Magda living a happy family life with their young son and daughter, Hugo and Miranda. Kevin has given up his quest to keep his family safe, but the bad guys aren’t having it. The Umbra-Mother (AKA the Umbra Sprite) and her Gracklethorns have put out a bounty on the Pendragon as he could stand in the way of them achieving their goals. To keep his family safe, Kevin draws Excalibur again and invites all kinds of mystical troubles. He wants this all to end so he resumes his search for The Fisher King, who’s also wanted by the Umbra-Mother. The problem is, he has no guide as the third mage is nowhere to be found.

The Gracklethorns learn of the existence of Kevin’s family and abduct Magda and Hugo in an attempt to lure him to them. But Magda is a powerful witch and far from a damsel in distress. So both Magda & Hugo and Kevin & Miranda work to reunite the two halves of the family with Hugo and Miranda revealing some interesting things about themselves along the way. This leads to an epic showdown between the Matchstick clan and the Umbra-Mother and the Gracklethorns, and an ending to the story. And no, I’m not going to tell you what it is.

I will say that I enjoyed the ending of the Mage saga. A bad ending can ruin a story for me and that has happened more often than I care to remember. Mage: The Hero Denied was not necessarily the ending I expected (that’s not a bad thing), but it’s a thrilling conclusion to the tale and it works. Can’t ask for more than that.

Mage Book Three: The Hero Denied Vol. 5 (The first half of the story)

Mage Book Three: The Hero Denied Vol. 5 (The first half of the story)


Some quick nuts and bolts. The story flows nicely with one small bump when the story skips forward 13 months. It’s obvious that something has happened, but it takes a while to reveal the time jump. There are plenty of twists and turns along the way so the story is never dull. In fact, I had a hard time putting the book down once I started reading. The art is fantastic, which is par for the course with Wagner. My one complaint, and it’s a minor one, is I wish the collections had included the covers to the single issues.

Mage: The Hero Denied very much struck me as a story of family. Yes, Kevin is still central to the story, but his family, and his feelings for them, are driving forces. Heck, you could even argue that the Umbra-Mother and the Gracklethorns are a family of sorts, and a dysfunctional one at that. Bottom line, Kevin needs his family to fulfill his destiny. There’s even a family connection on the creative team as Wagner’s son, Brennan, provides breathtaking colors for the series.

Can you read and enjoy The Hero Denied without having read Mage previously? Since I’ve read all of Mage, that’s hard for me to answer so I’ll say maybe. It is a rip-roaring adventure with emotional impact any way you slice it, but you’ll definitely get more out of it if you’ve read the entire saga as heroes and villains from earlier in the series appear. And with easy access to the earlier chapters through the aforementioned trade collections, why wouldn’t you read the entire story?

Mage Book Three: The Hero Denied Vol. 6 (The story concludes)

Mage Book Three: The Hero Denied Vol. 6 (The story concludes)


I fell in love with Mage in the late ‘80s when I discovered the first series through the long out of print Starblaze collections. The series remains my favorite work by creator Matt Wagner. If you’re a Mage fan and haven’t read the concluding chapter, you’re in for a treat. If you’ve never read any of the Mage series before, I highly recommend checking it out and I envy you reading it for the first time. I’m looking forward to going back and reading the entire series again.

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