Kevin wields his bat. Artist: Matt Wagner.

MAGE

Original medium: Comic books
Published by: Comico
First Appeared: 1984
Creator: Matt Wagner
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By the 1980s, American comic books, which had spent much of their existence virtually obsessed with the superhero genre, had explored practically all conceivable superhero concepts. And yet, in launching Mage, by cartoonist Matt Wagner (Grendel, Sandman Mystery Theatre), Comico (Fish Police, The Rocketeer) in 1984, it was breaking new ground. The hero, while …

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… decidedly modern and certainly super, had close parallels, acknowledged within the series and carefully planned by the author, with the legend of King Arthur.

The eponymous mage wasn't the protagonist, but Mirth, a magic wielder who met the real hero, Kevin Matchstick, in the first issue. Mirth guided Kevin through the gradual discovery of his own heroic heritage. Kevin was a disaffected young man first and most characteristically seen in a T-shirt emblazoned with a lightning bolt that looked just like Captain Marvel's chest emblem — tho the shirt itself was black, rather than the color that led Cap's arch-enemy to call him "The Big Red Cheese".

The comic's full title was Mage: The Hero Discovered. It ran 15 issues, between May, 1985 and December, 1986, the last double-sized. They told the complete story of Kevin, disaffected only at first, learning his true place, both in the world of everyday natural phenomena, and in that of eternal, quasi-supernatural legendry. He was a reincarnation of King Arthur; and Mirth, of course, was Merlin. He learned who his enemies were, and with the help of several heroic allies, who corresponded to others found in the canon of Arthurian tales, defeated them.

Of particular importance to him was a young woman named Edsel, who was first seen driving a bright red car of the same-named model. She corresponded to Arthur's Lady of the Lake. It was from her, before her death, that he received a baseball bat that he found useful in superhero work. The bat was in reality Arthur's sword, Excalibur.

In 1987, The completed work was reprinted in graphic novel form, divided into three volumes, by The Donning Company (Elfquest, A Distant Soil). The original plan was to follow it up with Mage: The Hero Defined, showing an older Kevin, well established in his role as avatar of the legendary figure, also as a 15-issue series. The final part of the overall story was also to be a 15-issue series, called Mage: The Hero Denied.

But shortly afterward, Comico went bankrupt, tying up legal rights to Wagner's own creation. It took several years to straighten it out. Meanwhile, his career writing and drawing comics continued at DC, where he made his mark on such properties as Dr. Mid-Nite and The Demon. Finally, Mage: The Hero Defined was published by Image Comics (Savage Dragon, Witchblade) starting with a cover date of July, 1997 and continuing to October, 1999. Meanwhile, in 1998 and '99, Image reprinted The Hero Discovered in eight double-sized issues.

In the 21st century, Wagner has continued at DC with several Batman projects, including one that also involved Superman and Wonder Woman. As of this writing, the completion of the Mage series hasn't yet appeared.

— DDM

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Text ©2009 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Andrew Rev.