JOHN HENRY: A TALE OF IRON & MAGIC
Story: Ed Williams
Writers: Ed Williams, Tim Wasney, Brent Lyles, Spencer Bollettieri Art: Miguel A. Ruiz
Colorist: Tim Wasney Publisher: Mayke
WHAT IS IT?
Arclight Comics launched a new, diverse superhero universe with The Passing: Issue #0. The publisher has since rebranded as "Mayke," but continues the story in this 15-page issue.
There's a magical/magical realism-meets-Americana feel to the concept of a powered John Henry speaking with a sorceress, but the tone of this superhero book and its dark city also feels influenced by later Batman films and comics. Definitely fold in some socio-political leanings, and you may start to get a good idea for the book.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A sorceress named Sil'at shows up to motivate a man into fighting angry gods.
That man is John Marx, a tired ex-hero who just wants to be left alone. But he used to be John Henry, who used his metal skin and magic hammer as a force for good.
But motivating him is just the start – they'll need to build a team of superheroes if they hope to stave off the forces of the gods. But that's a tale for the next issue...
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: for a creative team who doesn't come from the comics industry, it's really incredible what the Mayke team has accomplished in John Henry: A Tale of Iron & Magic. The world-building is ambitious, the art and color are impressive, and the concept is compelling. I want to read more!
Most comics come from the viewpoint of a single character, but this issue balances two competing narratives, playing out like a scene of a stage play.
John Henry's rich color and moody lighting feels pulled from the palette of your favorite dark anime.
The line art is well done. Detailed, but not overwrought. Ruiz chooses to focus hard on close-ups to amp up the drama for this otherwise quiet issue.
For a quieter issue that's heavy with setting up the plot, the writers still keep it fairly interesting with the help of some really attractive illustration work and color.
There are only two characters in this issue (with the exception of some extras at the very beginning) and neither of them are white, which is a promising start for minority representation in this new superhero universe.
Rather than use thought balloons, the issue uses captions for the characters' inner narratives. I'm a fan of the little icons they use to differentiate the two.
The "Marx" vs. "Henry" name makes me wonder if there will be any overt anti-capitalist or other socio-political messaging in future issues. I feel like it's almost impossible to talk about minority rights without mentioning the flaws in the capitalist belief system, but I look forward to seeing how Mayke tackles the issues.
If you buy it from the link below, it's only 99 cents!
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
This issue is only 15 pages, cover to cover, and is virtually all dramatic conversation. With typical issues being between 20 and 30 pages, and most superhero comics featuring at least one superpowered battle per issue, there may be some cognitive dissonance between readers' expectations and reality when reading this.
Sil'at's intro text looks more like a sound effect and you may not realize that it's meant to introduce her character. Potentially introducing John Henry/Marx in a similar manner or giving the copy more prominent placement and adding some text to describe her could help eliminate this confusion.
It's nice that we get captions that give us definitions for most of the new terms inside, but it can bog down pages that are already fairly heavy with dialogue. It might be something that could be solved by a glossary or just organically revealing these things and their meanings in later issues.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
You may be wondering why you'd want to invest in another superhero universe when there are already so many to choose from.
While Marvel and DC may have problems with minority representation, other publishers (like Valiant or Lion Forge and their Catalyst Prime universe) are working harder to represent those voices and characters and have the clout and bankroll to hire established talent.
Mayke wants minority representation to be the primary focus. But they have an uphill battle ahead of them. But they've also got a lot of heart and the noblest of intentions. Plus, for a bunch of creators who don't come from comics or creative industries in general, John Henry: A Tale of Iron & Magic is one damn good-looking comic.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
The Passing: Issue #0 by Ed Williams, Miguel Angel Ruiz & Tim Wasney
Black Panther & The Crew by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Butch Guice & Scott Hanna
Catalyst Prime by Illidge, Priest, Rosado & Turini
If you like the art:
The Family Graves by Timothy Bach & Brian Atkins
KNIGHT: The Wandering Stars, Issue #0 by The Starlight City Project & Skill3 Studio
Wayward, Vol. 1 by Jim Zub & Steve Cummings
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Ed Williams – Writer, Letterer & Chief Creative Officer at Arclight Comics
Built the Arclight Comics brand and creative world 7 years ago to help spotlight underrepresented characters and creators in comics
New Face: His background isn't in comics -- it's in brand design and strategy
Brent Lyles – Writer, Culture & IP Integrity
Multitalented: Is a registered therapist in Florida
Uses his experience to help inform the characters’ emotions, traumas, and relationship dynamics on a deeper level
Spencer Bollettieri – Writer, IP Director
Is kind of Mayke's canon & continuity expert
Tim Wasney – Writer/Colorist/Sr. Art Director
Multitalented: His work in the shipping department at Home Depot helps inform how Arclight ships their comics in pristine condition
New Face: This is his first full-length comic!
Miguel Angel Ruiz – Artist
Outlander: Hails from Cordoba, Spain
Helps support kids in his city who want to become illustrators and cartoonists
HOW DO I BUY IT?
Click one of these:
The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
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