Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews — now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Modern Fantasy’ #1, out June 27 from Dark Horse Comics.
By Jami Jones. The tedium of everyday life is enough to drive anyone, human or not, into their own thoughts of escape. Rafer Roberts and Kristen Gudsnuk understand this enough to know that even beings in fantastic worlds can get caught in the doldrums of everyday life, and they use that understanding to create a book that doesn’t rely on a standard set of storytelling rules. Modern Fantasy is a limited series published by Dark Horse that explores the idea of what happens when a being longs for excitement and finally gets it.
Modern Fantasy is a new take on the quest story, wherein the characters are fantastic but the environments are familiar, even when they are completely, wonderfully strange. Rafer Roberts’ work on Valiant’s Archer & Armstrong has prepared him for writing fantasy in a way that feels more natural than extraordinary, with a focus on the characters and their interactions. Gudsnuk’s work on Henchgirl, her webcomic turned phenomenon (also published by Dark Horse), has provided the artist a fabulous foundation for her to produce a comic that, again, focuses more on personalities and relationships than the surroundings in which the characters find themselves.
Here is the tale of Sage Riverbend, a woman trapped both by the day-to-day rigmarole that pays her bills and her frequent daydreams of adventure. Sage shares her apartment with her dwarf bestie Gondra and a drug dealing reptile with magical skills (the aptly-named Lizard Wizard). Even at work she’s besieged by some out-of-our-ordinary colleagues, one of whom is barbaric even in a suit and tie (and shares a similarity to another certain gentleman who slays snake-people). Things in Sage’s life go off the well-beaten path when her roommate’s gob boyfriend mucks up a ritual with his sticky fingers (angering a group of Buffy-eque villains), and she is pulled from her data entry day job into a world of intrigue and high stakes. Now faced with a task she is (presumably) unprepared for, it begs the question of what Sage will do now that she has the distraction from monotony she has desperately hoped for.
Roberts walks a tightrope with Modern Fantasy; he manages to put together a story that blends the feeling of The Real World with high fantasy, making what could be just another title taking advantage of the affection for Dungeons & Dragons into a fully-formed and delightfully quirky read. There’s no pretension here; the characters are relatable and colored with believable flaws, making them feel like people we knew back in our formative years. We’ve all had the ophidian-looking roommate who can’t seem to get off the couch and the co-worker who postures like a barbarian. This particular mix of genres allows Roberts to freely explore new ground, never once falling into an abyss of trite storytelling and heavy-handed character tropes.
Gudsnuk brings to the book a style that exudes fun. The artist eschews traditional approaches and instead lets her characters jump and jive with energy, even when they’re slacking around. The colors have an authenticity to them, enforcing the idea that Sage’s reality is only two steps away from our own. Gudsnuk’s art is joyful and appealing, swirling together our world and a land with a mysterious floating castle, without the results veering towards the childlike.
Dark Horse did well bringing Modern Fantasy to life; it’s a pleasant change from the traditionally darker and heavier titles they usually focus on. Roberts and Gudsnuk’s tale of a girl who gets what she wants and must decide what to do with it is one worth getting lost in — perhaps on the commute to that desk job you love to hate.
Dark Horse Comics/$3.99
Written by Rafer Roberts.
Art by Kristen Gudsnuk.
8 out of 10
‘Modern Fantasy’ #1 hits stores June 27.