Mage: The Hero Denied #0 (Image Comics)
Matt Wagner returns to the world of the Hero. These comics were everywhere when I was a kid and with good reason: they were so damn cool and they’re just as cool as they ever were.
Check this out: the Heroes of old don’t die or fade away but are reborn, time and again, to continue defending humanity through the ages. They’re often born not knowing who they are or what they’re capable of and the forces of evil have no problem hunting them down and killing them before they get a chance to know anything about themselves, and that brings us to Kevin Matchstick.
Kevin is a down-on-his-luck nobody with an awesome shirt, a noble guy who can’t seem to get his shit together. He met a rather shaggy wizard and the two of them went on adventures, the wizard teaching Kevin about the world and showing him how to summon the power of Excaliber to his baseball bat.
He can do this because he is Arthur Pendragon reborn.
All that happened in Mage: the Hero Discovered. You can get that story in collected trades and it’s well worth the price of doing so – this is an awesome comic, the writing quality up there with the likes of Sandman and Transmetropolitan, but it has lacked any real resolution because writer Matt Wagner had a trilogy in mind.
The chapter titles of Mage: the Hero Discovered were all taken from Hamlet. The second chapter, Mage: the Hero Defined, were all taken from Macbeth. Here, Kevin moves into the wider world and discovers some of the other heroes wandering the world. He’s lost Merlin but gains a homeless person who is also a wizard, makes friends with Kirby Hero and Joe Phat (Hercules and Coyote, respectively), and the three of them go on some epic quests marred by discovery, triumph, and heartbreak.
It’s here that Kevin meets his future wife, learns that he never truly understood what he was supposed to do, and learns that he is also the incarnation of other great kings, like Gilgamesh. He becomes alienated and withdrawn, the once-and-future king entwined to the Wyrd Sisters by way of his wife. There’s tragedy here, and that second chapter ended darkly and fans of the series have been waiting for the third part to begin since 1997.
And here it is: Kevin Matchstick, returned to redeem himself and the world in a time of greatest peril. All hail the once and future king – this comic is designed to bridge what’s happened before to what is about to happen, a device Matt has used to frame transitions in this story before.
Get ready as best you can: nothing can prepare you for what lies ahead.