By Jonathan Edwards
This book reminds me a lot of two other recent DC miniseries: Supergirl: Being Super and Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love. At least in terms of tone and writing style. As far as premise goes, it’s much closer to the former. Because, at its core, Mystik U is just a retcon of Zatanna Zatara’s origin. But, it’s one that attempts to justify it by introducing the “Malevolence,” a super-powered threat that has ravaged the magical world. So much so that the only way to stop it is to turn back the clock and beat it before it becomes too big. However, it’s not clear how they’re meant to do so, when it appears that no one has any more of an idea about said Malevolence then, presumably, the first time this all happened. And, if that didn’t already sound like pretense, the rest of the issue makes sure you know it is.
That being said, Mystik U #1 isn’t a bad issue, and the blatant retcon isn’t an inherently bad thing. But, there are flaws. The biggest one being the fact that, despite the apparent desire for a decompressed, character-driven story, most, if not all of what we see here is instead action-driven. Just in case you’re not familiar with the distinction, let me put it like this: character-driven stories are more concerned with the personalities, emotions, and relationships of the characters within them, while action-driven (or plot-driven) stories are more concerned with the larger plot and what happens to its characters. One type is not better than the other, and both do have their potential drawbacks. Character-driven stories risk being drawn-out, meandering, and/or disconnected. And, action-driven stories risk being shallow, overly-convenient, and/or contrived. But, what we’re getting here is a mixture that emphasizes the weaknesses of both.
For example, in the first scene after the in-universe retcon, Zatanna overhears her dad refuting Rose Psychic’s idea that she has magical abilities and calling her “utterly mundane.” This, of course, is upsetting. But instead of giving us a moment to really get into how it affects her, we almost immediately jump ahead to one of her and her dad’s magic shows. There, she’s passive-aggressive before telling her dad to go to hell (except backward because Zatanna), and that accidentally summons demons which literally do take him to hell. A freaked out Zatanna runs off the stage and into Rose Psychic, who tells her that her dad’s going to be fine, that she can do magic, and then promptly teleports her to the eponymous Mystik U. And, all of that happens in a total of six pages, with two of them being dedicated to a spread. The character-driven aspect is obvious in that Zatanna’s motivations and feelings are clear, and they do drive the events of the story. But, the execution is evidently action-driven, focusing mostly on getting her to Mystik U without stopping to let us connect and empathize with those emotions along the way. As such, the character moments become superficial, and the action ends up being clumsily paced.
And, those are trends that continue throughout this issue. Things do slow down somewhat after Zatanna gets to Mystik U, but at the same time, so many new characters and side stories are introduced, and we jump between them so frequently that nothing and no one is developed with much depth. Aside from a single passing reference, Zatanna doesn’t even reflect on what happened to her dad, and she seems to have no problem accepting her sudden enrollment in a university for magic users, let alone the fact that she can use real magic.
It’s safe to say that the art is the single strongest aspect of Mystik U #1. Although, there’s also not all that much to say about it. The large cast of characters are all depicted uniquely, the backgrounds are properly detailed, and the broad range of colors still fit together well. Even though I wouldn’t go as far as calling the art extraordinary, it gets the job done, and it does so very, very well.
Throughout this review, I’ve been fairly critical of this first issue. Yet, none of the issues I’ve mentioned kill the story. And despite being acutely aware of them while reading, I still had an enjoyable enough experience. What’s more, I’m sure there are those that’ll really love this one, and there’s nothing wrong with that. At the very least, it’s well-intentioned, and there’s not a moment of mean-spiritedness. So, do I recommend it? No, not particularly. But, if you’re fine with the retcon and interested in what the DC equivalent of Hogwarts is like, there’s no harm in giving Mystik U a look.
Mystik U #1