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By Arpad Okay. Bad kids. They know better, but they do it anyway. Cinder doesn’t need anyone to put a mark on his head, he’s more than happy to do it himself. Why can’t guys like that just stop begging for trouble? Because it’s fun, that’s why. Gutter Magic lives for the rush, it hangs on to the thrill before it gets out of control and turns to terror. At least, it tries to, and so far everyone has thrown some very impressive Hail Marys.

The world of Gutter Magic continues to grow as the series progresses, and not just by moving the story forward. The setting is given enough space to breathe and its cultural landscape begins to reveal itself (by gaslight, naturally). It doesn’t feel quite like steampunk anymore. This isn’t some automated society advancing on well-oiled gears. It’s a magic world that passed our time and technology so long ago that the wheels are starting to fall off. Things seem antiquated compared to us because, though advanced, they are collapsing into a Medieval Dark Age.

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Gutter Magic is a meeting of Jack Vance and Jules Verne. The maritime warfare takes place between airships miles above the metropolis, a chase through the clouds and not the chop. Throw in a dragon and the thread that ties it all together, steampunk and fantasy and pulp fiction — is wonder. The spectacle knows no ceiling. The action is closer to Golden Age military comics than anything contemporary, or the equally hardboiled-yet-fantastic comics found in newspapers of the time, like Prince Valiant and Steve Canyon. A dragon attack on a flying pirate skirmish that culminates in the fabulous, millionth death of the girl nobody can kill. I am amazed (and pleased) by each scene’s ability to top the one before it. You had me at “airships.” It is almost unfair to take my breath away so many times in a single issue.

This is definitely the best issue of the series so far. Gutter Magic is on fire at this point — dragonfire, that is — and I expect the coming finale to really bust the glass of the backboard. It burns brighter and brighter as it comes to a close, and while nothing has been held back, I can’t help but feel that all the fury thus far has been the thunder before the storm.

IDW Publishing/$3.99

Written by Rich Douek.

Art by Brett Barkley.

Colors by Jules Rivera.

Letters by Nic J. Shaw.

9 out of 10

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