In a world where magic is forbidden, a decidedly supernatural threat emerges from the shadows, as the creators of Wasteland get Umbral off to a strong start.
With Umbral, the creative team behind the launch of Oni Press’ Wasteland dive deep into dark fantasy, telling the story of a magical world where magic is not only uncommon; it’s illegal. Years ago, the kingdom of Fendin entered from a dark age of superstition into an enlightened age of science and reason, spearheaded by the learned leaders known as Profoss. But when an eclipse falls upon the land, a group of legendary shadow creatures known as the Umbral takes the opportunity to launch an invasion into the realm of humans.
Having accidentally witnessed the Umbral’s incursion into the royal palace, not to mention their murder of the king and queen, and the apparent death of her friend, Prince Arthir the young street thief Rascal is intent to get to the bottom of the situation. Most importantly, it’s up to her to prevent the Umbral from using a magical force known as the Mist to wreak untold havoc on the world. And that’s probably as good a reason as any to rethink that whole “no magic” policy.
Christopher Mitten’s art was always a large part of the appeal of Wasteland, and that holds true with this title. A master at conveying emotional and dramatic moments through facial expressions and composition, Mitten brings a feel to the book that is often more expressive than cleaner, more realistic styles of art. His talent shines through, too, in his design for the Umbral, with their demonic forms emerging from the darkness amid shadows and clouds of otherworldly smoke.
The dialogue of Umbral is chock-full of the sort of in-universe references that fantasy fans know and expect, and it’s a sure sign of Antony Johnston’s skill as a writer that these blend into the background more often than not. Working in a genre that is very easy to overwrite, Johnston manages to drop intriguing clues as to the depth of the story’s world while almost never taking the reader out of the moment.
All things said, this first issue is a great introduction to Johnston’s and Mitten’s intricately crafted high fantasy world. With stunning visuals and an uncommonly accessible story, Umbral just might turn out to be one of the best independent fantasy comics in recent years. If Wasteland is any indication, Umbral can only improve from here on out. In case that wasn’t clear enough, that means you’ll definitely want to give this one a chance.
Antony Johnston (W), Christopher Mitten (A) • Image Comics, $2.99, November 13, 2013