Devin R Bruce is a friend to Variant Edition and to all good-hearted creatures who roam the Earth. In each installment of This Column Has Seven Days, Devin discusses his favourite pop culture experiences of the past week in an effort to share the joy of an overlooked gem, an old favourite that’s bubbled up to the surface, or a classic work that he’s finally gotten around to. Comic books, movies, television, novels, podcasts, music, Old Time Radio: there’s something for everyone. Here’s what he’s been up to this week.
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I own a lot of comic books created by Matt Wagner. Whether he’s credited as writer alone (Sandman Mystery Theatre, Zorro) or writer and artist (Doctor Mid-Nite, Batman and The Monster Men), I’ve always been impressed by his ability to pace a story and lay it out on the comics page. It’s only relatively recently that I’ve started digging into his early work, first taking a shallow dip into his Grendel saga, and then most recently, diving full on into the first volume of Mage. Originally published by Comico from 1984 through 1986. the first Mage series (subtitled The Hero Discovered) introduces the reader to Kevin Matchstick, a disaffected youth who just so happens to look a lot like mid-1980s Matt Wagner. Young Matchstick discovers he has incredible magical powers after meeting a wizard called Mirth, who helps Matchstick develop these powers as well as discover his purpose on earth. Eventually Matchstick is joined by a young woman named Edsel who loves cars and wields a baseball bat, and Sean Knight, a ghost who doesn’t know he’s a ghost. This ragtag group has been assembled to defeat the Umbra Sprite and his henchmen, the identical Grackleflint quadruplets and an army of goblin creatures called Red Caps. Its modern fantasy adventure and it’s not exactly subtle, but boy, is it a fun read.
At the beginning, Wagner seems to be getting his feet under him, writing-wise; the first few issues have some clunky dialogue and the plots sometimes sputter and move along haltingly. The art, though, is arresting in both its clarity of purpose and mastery of form. Even though it grows in maturity and confidence as the book goes on, a spark of greatness is there from the beginning. Whether it’s in the first issue, where Matchstick fights a mysterious foe on a subway train, or a sequence in issue ten where our heroes case a shady casino, each issue of Mage: The Hero Discovered is a treat for the eye. The book’s colours (also done by Wagner) are a vibrant and vital part of the story, especially the mystical green energy that almost glows on the page. The art is the real strength of the book, and it doesn’t hurt that the great Sam Keith adds his own flair when he takes over inking duties after the fifth issue. The Hero Discovered is the first chapter in a planned three-part story, though Wagner hasn’t published the third part yet. Based on my experience with the first volume, the second (The Hero Defined) is not going to sit idly by on my shelf for long.
I read Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys a couple years ago now. A spiritual sequel to Gaiman’s masterpiece of modern fantasy American Gods, I found Anansi Boys to be a fine story about Anansi the Spider God’s son, Fat Charlie Nancy (who shares none of his father’s amazing powers) after he meets up with the brother he never knew, Spider (who seems to have inherited all of them). After finishing, I thought it was a good story; not great, but good. However, I’m currently revisiting the book as narrated by the great British comedian Lenny Henry and it has completely reshaped my view of the work. Henry is a master storyteller, gifted with brilliant comic timing, an ear for dialogue, and a seemingly limitless supply of voices. Gaiman’s story is elevated to greatness by his performance, and it’s mesmerizing to listen to. It’s a ten hour audio program; I started listening to it two days ago and I’m already over halfway through. I know audiobooks aren’t for everyone but honestly, a curious listener could not take a better first crack at the format than Anansi Boys.
Celestia is an adorable and fast-paced board game about steam-powered airship captains looking for treasure. If that sentence doesn’t hook you then I don’t know what to tell you. After playing it once I was hooked. It’s a game that’d be easy to play for children as young as eight years old, but not lacking anything for its simplicity. The players take the role of a group of airship pilots sailing the skies looking for treasure. In each round players take turns being the captain, navigating the ship through a series of potential obstacles. After rolling the dice and seeing if the ship is beset by lightning, bad weather, space pirates, or giant monstrous birds, the other players have to guess if the captain has the cards in their hands to make it through these obstacles. If they have no faith in their intrepid leader, they can get off at their current island and search for treasure, or they can stay on the boat in the hopes that the captain can steer them straight and true, and onto a new land with even greater treasure. There’s also the threat that another player could sabotage you or hit you with an ejector seat card. The art is whimsical steampunk, the mechanics elegantly simple, and the decision to jump ship or ride it out frequently nerve-wracking. I loved Celestia and will be playing it again soon the next time I visit my new favourite board game café.
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That’s where I’m going to wrap things up this week, I think; tomorrow I run a 10k race and then will be volunteering at Variant Edition for FCBD, so I’m going to spend the rest of my Friday sleeping and trying not to panic. Until next time, why not cram as much as you can into your days until you feel like you’re going to explode? And you should probably ready your hands for a serious high-fiving if you’re visiting the store tomorrow. I’ll see you in seven days.