Modern Fantasy #3
Writer: Rafer Roberts
Artist: Kristen Gudsnuk
Cover Artist: Kristen Gudsnuk
Publisher: Dark Horse
Review by Sean Frankling
With issue 3, Modern Fantasy has finally earned the latter half of its title. The first two issues introduced some fun, likeable characters, but their fantasy elements felt superficial. Plenty of modern bits, just nothing very fantastical on a narrative level. Now, though, the series moves beyond being a palette-swapped millenial sitcom. That means we finally get a chance to see what’s under that skin.
In particular, that takes the form of a classic training montage. Our heroes prepare to do battle with an ancient cult, hoping to summon a fire demon underneath their local mall. In the process, we discover the main characters’ individual combat expertise–ranger, barbarian, fighter, rogue, wizard and cleric. The characters we’ve been gradually introduced to turn out to form a pretty well-balanced if low-level D&D party. Clever, since the reader might have missed some of those points amid all the time previously spent on their day jobs and social life.
This issue also makes a smart decision by bringing Bock-Darr the Barbarian into the limelight. His combination of brutal barbarian fury and mild-mannered office affect make him the series’ most fun character by far. Having him in the foreground neatly ties up the premise of “modern world, but populated by D&D characters.”
Modern Fantasy remains a little rough around the edges, even as this issue gets it moving, though. There’s a trend of kind of cloying relationship moments between the party’s fighter and cleric. It seems like the tone is going for “overaffectionate in a cute way.” Unfortunately, what we get more often is an overly clingy couple dragging down the flow.
Likewise, there’s an ongoing bit about characters spouting insensitive stereotypes about one another’s fantasy “races.” These moments play out like lighthearted attempts to poke fun at the ways people occasionally step on each other’s identities without realizing. But the comic keeps following each gag up by grinding the narrative to a halt while the characters all shame each other for messing up. This might work better if the racism parallel was more centralized to the story as a whole. As it is, it doesn’t read like the creators are taking the time they’d need to give the important subject its due. The resulting drive-by approach feels more jarring than anything.
The art might lead you to believe Modern Fantasy is an all-ages comic. Don’t make that mistake, though. There’s enough references to sex and drug use here to make the comic inappropriate for young children. Still, the cute, bouncy visuals are a great compliment to the light tone of the story. And the simplistic style allows for vivid action without getting over-complicated. That said, there are also panels where the looseness verges on sloppy.
The Verdict: Wait and See.
After the last issue, I would have given Modern Fantasy a straight-up “skip it.” But now that the actual fantasy elements have started to take the stage, it’s starting to look like a fun series with a slow start.