Gutter Magic # 1 seems in a hurry to get somewhere. Page one confronts you with the image of a somewhat contemporary New York skyline featuring airships, swirling mists, drakes, and the partially floating specter of a skyscraper. In the following pages references to a larger world come and go with little context. This can be frustrating because you can sense what the writer is trying to accomplish, though you can see the comic never quite hits the mark. Scruffy, violent ne’er-do-well Cinder is meant to be our protagonist. He's different from the rest of his family, in that he can't use magic. To compensate he's been trying to steal his way into sorcery. Along this path, Cinder has burned just about every bridge he has ever crossed and he shows little regret. While seeking help with a particular magic spell Cinder makes some revelation that isn't adequately shared with the audience, nor is it given much significance before the book's end.
That's it. That's the full extent of the plot, premise, and character growth. And that's a problem. There's just not enough in Gutter Magic's twenty pages. The book's title tells me so much more about his world than the dialog or plot. Writer Rich Douek struggles to do his world-building and character intro, leaving everything too vaguely defined or even too cliché. As a main character, Cinder is... well, he's supposed to be the roguish type, characterized by his grimacing one-liners and selfishness. None of it makes him a good point-of-view figure. He simply occupies space. And wears goggles.
We get a large amount of exposition in the book's opening pages as Gutter Magic moves swiftly from panel to panel. It's not until the comic's final pages that the pace eases up and gives the setting room to breathe. The actual plot is bland, devoid of any major turns. Our characters don't exhibit much more than the expected traits and tropes. The industrial, almost steampunk elements of the world seem like decoration and don't offer any insight into how or why this realm differs from our own. And, by the last page, I’m left with the feeling that future issues won’t reveal much. To the comic’s credit, every panel seems to serve to force the story forward. None of the book feels wasted. However, this first issue is very unsatisfying in its lack of texture.
The art is fine; murky and busy, but clear enough to avoid any clutter. The most remarkable bit of art is a splash page of our main characters fleeing a death cult through the mind-bending, impossible layout of a magical market. It's literally dizzying and it's full of motion and personality in a way the rest of the issue is not.
Gutter Magic offers intriguing gestures toward a world of wonder, without much in the way of follow-through. This is to low fantasy what cyberpunk is to hard science fiction. It’s dirty, rough, paranoid, and dangerous. I hope subsequent issues can rally the comic's strengths and better support that core. I hope the book gets where it’s going soon.
Gutter Magic #1 Writer: Rich Douek Artist: Brett Barkley Colorist: Jules Rivera Publisher: IDW Publishing/Comics Experience Price: $3.99 Release Date: 1/20/16 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital