Writer: Louise Simonson
Artists: Steve Scott (p), Kris Justice (i)
“Ritual of the Sphinx: Pt. 1”
Writer: David Sexton
Artist: Eric Nguyen
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Plots: What Illyana and Dani did in the really ancient past means something to a Sorcerer Supreme wannabe in the present; they all better stay on the good sides of Inana, Ma’at, Ishtar and Oshtur if they want to persevere. It’s all about pyramids and ankhs this month.
Comments: The story of Ian McNee, a Lennonesque psychedelic sorcerer, is the framing device for a flashback to the old days of New Mutants, and presumably the connective tissue that will link all four of the Mystic Arcana tour stops through the far corners of Marvel mysticism. He’s a harmless enough protagonist and enough of a rockstar to provide Nguyen ample room for lots of flights of fantasy. He has a healing ritual, which needs four particular talismans, to perform in the mystic spheres.
This is the right way to go about re-awakening Marvel’s mystic sides. One special feature of the company, reborn in the 1960s, was how freely they mixed sci-fi elements with magical mumbo jumbo. While eschewing too many worries about heaven and hell, Marvel embraced a comparative religion approach, borrowing liberally from a variety of pantheons and world belief systems (and of course, plenty of Cthulhu) to set up their own multiple hells, dark dimensions, Limbo-lands and so much more freaky stuff. And all of it functioned in a kind of awkward balance with the work of mad scientists, genius creators and rayguns and space invaders.
Retouching on that side of things is a cyclical experience, but it feels like time to do it again. DC just did something similar with the Helmet of Fate one shots, but I’ve only ever been interested in Kent and Inza when it comes to that old helm. Here our featured players are Magik, the Dark Knight (and Morgan Le Fey), Scarlet Witch and Runaways’ Sister Grimm. This is a good set of folks, and I plan to tune in for all four. The time travel angle frees us somewhat to visit whichever character avatars the creators prefer, and the self-contained nature of the series makes it an entertainment option similar to Annihilation, where one can tune in out of interest rather than necessity, or ignore it all together.
I was a big New Mutants fan, so it’s very comforting to revisit aspects of both the Simonson and Claremont eras in her new story. She nails Storm’s ancestor Ashake, whose mystic gifts warn her of Magik’s arrival and assure her that aiding the troubled teen’s journey is a top priority. Illyana proves herself a still vibrant character, one as worthy of resurrection as her brother was. The simple plot mechanics (Ashake and Illyana battle a mad sorcerer for possession of a fabled sword) keep Dani off-screen for most of the story, which is a shame, but Scott wonderfully recaptures the underappreciated allure of the Steve Leialoha character designs of the past time in which the story is set. In fact, his clear style and Justice’s efficient inks make for a lovely visual team I’d love to see again on other stories.
The framing device pits McNee against a weird riddling crocodile Sphinx, and it’s Nguyen’s hallucinatory art that sells this dream sequence of symbols. Very Harry Potter, in a way, including McNee’s optimistic, non-bitter approach to challenges. This is a fine way to begin a series I hope will continue to use magic as a theme rather than a plot device to be repudiated by more sensible heroes.
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