Written by Rich Douek | Art by Brett Barkley | Published by IDW/Comics Experience | Format: Paperback, 32pp
Now and then a book comes along that if not trying something completely different, at least tries to give a new take, a different perspective, on a genre that has in all probability been done to death. Magic. Yep, we’ve seen it all at some point – wizards, witches, Harry Potter, Narnia, Lord of the Rings etc. Gutter Magic does dive into these crowded waters, but with a nudge and wink to the more conventional material. What if, in a world run by sorcerers and magicians you had no abilities yourself but wanted a piece of that pie? Then you’d be a sort of artful dodger, a ducker and diver stealing potions and spells where and when you find them.
Gutter Magic introduces us to Cinder Byrnes (which, opinion on the book aside, is a terrible name. I hope it was a joke) who does just that. His world is a world where the elite are powerful practioners of magic, magic being the wealth of this world, and everyone else is regarded as inferior to them. Many of these others scrape by stealing or finding or trading for magical bits and bobs, broken trinkets, forgotten potions that sort of thing. Cinder though has higher aspirations, as he alone from his family cannot cast spells and he has set out to change that. The opening sequence, where he is caught attempting to steal from a powerful wizard and barely escapes alive, is great fun and gives you an idea of the precarious nature of these people’s lives.
As an introduction to new characters and a very different world, one driven by magic and not science this was a great read. We are thrown in straight away, and recognise that while Cinder is a bit of a rogue, who apparently lies, cheats and steals on a daily basis, he is doing it for worthy reasons and to even nastier people. Indeed, the life he leads sees him cross paths with some very dangerous people, and his unique skill set is the only thing keeping him alive. He reminded me a little of a cross between Indiana Jones and John Constantine, nastier than the former but milder than the latter. From the level of background detail thrown in story wise I can assume Rich Douek has written a huge bible for this world and its characters, a lot of care has clearly gone into crafting this world.
The writing of course is always just half the story. The artwork, by Brett Barkley, divided me a little. While not exactly to my personal tastes, I thought it suited the fantasy/retro world on the page, a nice blend of magical and Victorian themes, and he did a great job visualising that world and its inhabitants. The layouts were never over elaborate, they just told a solid story at a good pace, and the oddness of this world is captured well in each panel. I’m not totally sold on the artwork, but I respect the technical ability on show.
This was a very promising first issue. It is a crowded market place at the moment, and you need to stand out from the crowd to succeed. I don’t think Gutter Magic has done enough to stand out just yet, but I can see it getting there if things continue as strongly as this debut. It is certainly a world I would like to return to.
Gutter Magic #1 is out now from IDW/Comics Experience