Umbral #7 rings in the second volume of this Image series under the subtitle “The Dark Path,” and as that name suggests, this book has officially taken on a classic fantasy journey story vibe. Unfortunately, it also suffers from one of that particular sub-genre’s most notorious and laborious pitfalls: a slowing of pace. Hey, if it can happen to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it can happen to anybody. Taking place directly after where issue six left off, this one sees our eclectic group of assembled warlocks, gypsies, priests and scoundrels continue their covert mission to destroy the Oculus, a source of great power currently in the possession of our reluctant heroine, Rascal, so that it doesn’t fall into the mitts of the dastardly shadow creatures, the Umbral. They would use it to extricate themselves from their home dimension and presumably lay waste to the world. It’s a long story, but it’s also a good one, so definitely pick up that first trade!
While the crew contends with the Umbral as much as they do with their own preconceptions and collective mistrust of each other, so too is a coven of mystic assassins known as the Kin of the Whispered Blade (which would be the perfect name for a discreet gay bar) hot on their heels for otherwise unknown reasons, though magic (a four-letter word in this world) is most likely at its root.
As I’ve said multiple times before, this series has been one of my fondest comic book surprises over the past year, and I was happy to see it once again in my stack of reviews. However, while Umbral #7 was decent as a relaunch point, I don’t think it was a particularly memorable addition to the series as a whole.
Now, some of that is to be expected, since this issue is getting the book restarted after an abbreviated hiatus, but it felt sluggish and without the amount of progression that has been present in most of its earlier issues. So sure, you can’t continue at a steady clip without taking a breath, but I question why the team wouldn’t want to start the new arc with suitable panache.
Don’t get me wrong, there were cool scenes in the dark dimension (also called the Umbral) with sufficient use of magic and swordplay, not to mention the further exploration of that assassin’s guild, which has a very cool name and concept, and one that I look forward to seeing develop further. But it also just wasn’t as exciting as it has been. I mean, this issue ends with our group facing down a small mob of angry farmers as a cliffhanger, which, after their earlier exploits, is muted by comparison.
Still, Johnston’s unique and raucous voice in Umbral continues to chime through in the beautiful marriage of old world parlance and new world profanity, and I love it. That linguistic mix, along with the increasingly nuanced and now expanding character set, makes it a fun read - just not to the level it was at before the break.
Mitten’s art is another highlight of this series, and his now instantly recognizable style is a delight to pore over once again. I will say, though, that for some reason, this issue doesn’t feel as dynamic or as bright as some of those in the past, which only enhances that more subdued feel.
In the end, the content of this issue isn’t why I fell in love with Umbral, and I definitely don’t recommend it as a starting point. However, there is also absolutely nothing in it that makes me want to drop it entirely. I’ve had far too good an experience with this title to so quickly put it down. It’s just that, in a story about a hazardous travel, this is very middle-of-the-road.
Scribe: Antony Johnston Illuminator: Christopher Mitten Printsmith: Image Comics Bounty: $2.99 Commencement: 7/16/14