Review: Gutter Magic #4

The recap at the head of issue four clarifies several things. And yet, I’m left feeling like Gutter Magic wasted some of its potential. Looking back at the series, there’s too much that doesn’t pay off in a gratifying manner. I’m going to be charitable and say it’s a bold choice to save most of the series’ world-building exposition for the final issue. However, I think if Rich Douek had done a bit more to develop the book's characters earlier, the rising action would have been far more dramatic. The climax would have been much more satisfying. In this issue, Cinder (Cinder Byrnes -- get it?) finally confronts someone who can theoretically grant him magic powers. So single-minded is he in his pursuit of magic that he has alienated nearly everyone in his life. But it has all paid off. Here he is, standing alone -- save for his buddy Blacktooth -- at the threshold of completing his increasingly destructive quest to defy fate and claim his birthright.

Gutter Magic_04_cvrIssue four suggests the world of Gutter Magic’s will one-day deliver on the book’s title with a focus on the power of the meek and of the downtrodden. Essentially, Cinder comes to understand what cyberpunk writers have known for decades. The concentration of power among the elite and well-off is an artificial limitation. Subverting and resisting that status quo becomes the responsibility of our rascally protagonist. And, like his cyberpunk counterparts, Cinder proceeds through the book's conclusion motivated by self-interest rather than altruistic urges. Having seemingly lost everything, Cinder has found himself now truly empowered. It's a good bit of self-reflection. But it comes abruptly and too late to impact the story. Cinder's revelation regarding magic and his connection to it feels like a mid-story plot point. As a result, the mini-series ends in a kind of whimper.

I could have done with more of that kind of insight throughout the mini-series. But the provided material is substantial enough. Gutter Magic stretches itself thin, but doesn't waste your time. It exposes you to a world with corners worth exploring. And its characters, though at times bland, represent a decent variety of that world's aspects. I think the key problem here is that Cinder never seems to be having fun until the very end. He doesn’t come across as oppressed or emotionally tortured either. His laser focused ambition denies him such depth and makes him hard to cheer for. It’s hard to care about him or any of the story’s events. Cinder’s just an entitled jerk. So when the conclusion comes around, it isn’t anything resembling a triumph.

Issue four adds to the series via bits of mythos, but I'm only going to recommend it for the sake of closure.


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Gutter Magic #4 Writer: Rich Douek Artist: Brett Barkley Colorist: Jules Rivera Publisher: IDW/Comics Experience Price: $3.99 Release Date: 4/20/16 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital