Writer: Lilah Sturges
Artist: Pius Bak
Colorist: Gabriel Cassata
Letterer: Mike Fiorentino
Cover Artist: Qistina Khalidah
Editor: Matthew Levine
Publisher: Archaia and BOOM! Studios
OK, stop me if you’ve heard this one. There’s a hidden school of magic that trains a secret society of teenage magic users to fight the forces of darkness. Did you stop me? Well you should have because what I just described is not the story you’re thinking of. In this one, the kids cuss and the stakes couldn’t be higher as The Magicians #1 aims to subvert that old trope and craft a more adult-oriented supernatural story.
Disclaimer! I knew nothing about the world of The Magicians before reading this comic book. I had heard of the book series and vaguely remembered a trailer I saw a while ago for the TV adaptation but that was as far as my exposure went. As I read, I had questions about certain details or throwaway lines that I’m sure would have made more sense if I were previously exposed to their contexts. With that said, let’s get it to it!
Based on the incredibly popular and eponymous series by Lev Grossman, The Magicians #1 is a book looking to mystify, and it does just that. Written by Lilah Sturges with art by Pius Bak, this issue is a springboard that propels you into a tale that’s filled with attitude and a sense of purpose. It wastes no time dropping you into the story and letting you figure out the rest. Keshawn Warren, a professor of “hedge magic” (magic taught outside of an institution), and three of his most promising students start their professional and academic careers at Brakebills Academy for Magical Pedagogy, where they receive a less than warm welcome. Yeah there’s a lot to unpack in that sentence, and it gets denser as the pages flip.
At its core though, The Magicians #1 is a story about the haves and the have-nots who challenge the status quo. The rest is just sleight of hand. What the Magicians does best is present an environment that mirrors our own: one in which gatekeepers with no moral right to what lies beyond that gate scoff at any intrusion from those outside the gate. It’s a familiar tale but one which constantly needs to be told: the privileged benefactors of the established institutions meeting and melding with those that have had to claw their way to the door. The Magicians isn’t subtle. It’s not supposed to be. It’s in your face and rude about it, but in a beneficial and provocative way. Lilah Sturges masterfully crafts no nonsense dialogue and dishes it out in the appropriate amounts at the appropriate times. The characters were compelling and the world-building was interesting. I want to know more and I want a future series to expand and explore the world of The Magicians.
The book is beautiful, too. The cover art and typography have a nobility that elicits a magical (get it?) feeling. But it’s the interiors that will compel you to pick up issue #2. Pius Bak’s fluid and simple art creates an aesthetic that gives The Magicians its identity. The minimalist backgrounds and dynamic panel shapes make this an intuitive read and allows the reader to concentrate less on where to look and instead on how to feel.
While The Magicians #1 does a whole lot right, there are a few rough edges. I was a bit confused the first time through the book. It took me multiple readings to pick up on the whole story, and I’m still not sure I’ve filled in all the cracks. The setup for issue #2 is also a little weak, and this issue could have used a few more moments of exposition. But the allure of magic is in the wonderment, and no good magician reveals their tricks. That’s something The Magicians #1 excels in. It gives you just enough to hook you but leaves you wanting so much more. It’s a captivating entry point into a much larger world and an adventure that’s sure to have many more tricks up its sleeve.