Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Marvel Unbound - Mystic Arcana

"Marvel Unbound" returns with the latest Marvel Noise podcast. Here on Random Thoughts Escaping is a written version of the review. Feel free to join the conversation about the title in the Marvel Noise forum's "Marvel Unbound" thread. Enjoy!

Mystic Arcana is a curious little collection. I picked it up because it featured four characters I dig. But there were numerous times while reading this that I stopped and wondered if I missed something -- some kind of prequel or larger continuity signpost. Unfortunately, all I got was an Ian McNee framing device that left me under-whelmed.

This hardcover collects the four main Mystic Arcana issues, each focusing on a specific Marvel character: Magik, The Black Knight, Scarlet Witch, and Sister Grimm, along with the "Official Tarot of the Marvel Universe," and "Mystic Arcana: The Book of Marvel Magic."

Right from the start, though, I got the feeling that even Marvel wasn't sure what they were doing with this collection. The first two pages of the book try to make sense of the confusion to come with a failed attempt at baselining the pending chaos and five short paragraphs on the key players. Then we jump right in to the disorienting Ian McNee story thread that weaves its way between the featured characters' individual books. McNee is on a confusing quest to recover four magic talismans of some sort, and the main characters' stories somehow relate to that quest. And that's about the best I can do to explain it.

Magik was always a character I dug back in the day. I have an issue of the '83 limited series and a handful of original New Mutants books from '84, but haven't kept up on the character. With Mystic Arcana: Magik, writer Louise Simonson gives us a New Mutants-era tale featuring Illyana Rasputin and Dani Moonstar. It's a disorienting beginning to a confusing book.

The Black Knight was cool enough for the Avengers, so he was cool enough for me. This origin tale by Roy Thomas was enjoyable, but the tenuous ties to the overarching Ian McNee storyline felt forced.

I have had a crush on the Scarlet Witch since I was a preteen. Unfortunately, Jeff Parker gives us a preteen Wanda Maximoff. The best thing about this collection is the Marko Djurdjevic covers. The Wanda on the cover is amazing, and probably the best thing to recommend the issue.

Nico Minoru, Sister Grimm, was a recent find on the pages of Runaways and an immediate favorite for me. C. B. Cebulski delivers a compact one-shot that slips nicely into the gap between Runaways issues #17 and #18. By far the best story of the bunch (and another stunning Djurdjevic cover). One objection, though: One of the coolest aspects of Runaways is that although they all thought up codenames, the group quickly abandoned them. Hard to say why Marvel chose to force the "Sister Grimm" moniker on this book, but it feels a little hokey.

"Marvel Tarot" is 50-plus pages of tedium. Subtitled "Ian McNee's Log Book", it consisted of "handwritten" comments around various tarot cards, illustrated as if the reader weren't looking at a journal so much as the jumbled, layered mess of a desktop with items splayed across it. Trying to wade through it evoked the same sort of disorientation as the overall continuity of the collection, leaving me wondering if there was something larger I should have picked up on in the visual mess.

"The Book of Marvel Magic" is essentially an Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe excerpt that focuses on third-tier characters that have a magical bent. No Doctor Strange, no Mephisto, not even a Clea. It doesn't even include all the main characters from Mystic Arcana -- The Black Knight profile is missing!

I usually devour trade paperbacks and collections. So I know it's not clicking for me when reading one feels like work. Part of the problem here might be that all five stories have different writers and artists, but I think it's a larger issue of high-concept and poor execution. I bought Mystic Arcana on the strength of the characters featured; unfortunately Marvel lost its way with this one.

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