Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten examine the scope of imagination and adventure, in their new Image Comics series, “Umbral”. Having already demonstrated an incredibly strong creative relationship, through their work on the post-apocalyptic series “Wasteland”, the smooth cohesiveness of the team’s combined talents on this new project comes as no surprise.
WRITTEN BY: Antony Johnston
ART BY: Christopher Mitten
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
RELEASE: November 13, 2013
“Umbral” presents itself as a dark and mysterious foray into the high fantasy genre of world-building and character creation. There’s a richness of imagination that pours through Johnston’s narrative, and it’s only spurred on by Mitten’s artistic vision. Furthermore, there’s an engaging mythopoeic conception of land, history, and life that is as generous as it needs to be for a successful debut issue.
While it’s always best to experience the art of speculative fiction firsthand, rather than reading a regurgitated summary that will never truly encompass the breadth of creativity, talent and foresight involved in the overall process of creation, here’s the rundown for sake of clarity. The Kingdom of Fendin is preoccupied in the exciting event of a highly anticipated solar eclipse. Taking advantage of this distraction is the bold and adventurous thief Rascal, and her surprising spell-casting partner in crime, Prince Arthir. Together, they embark on a seemingly uncomplicated journey to steal a powerful item from the Red Palace, only to be swept into a gruesome world of blood, death, and dark legends. The fate of the Kingdom now rests on Rascal’s shoulders as she tries to make sense of nightmare she fell into.
“Umbral” #1 is a great introduction to what is looking to be a distinguished and thoroughly thought-out series. The pacing of Johnston’s narrative in terms of plot development is not overbearing considering the intricate process of building a dark fantasy world, but it manages to be perfectly informative without giving too much away in order to maintain reader interest. Both writer and artist provide a variety of differently envisioned characters to help establish a feel for the time and setting. Moreover, they present a surprisingly filled-out Tolkien-esque map of the Kingdom of Fendin, which only shows how big the creative team is dreaming for this series.
The artwork is a collaborative effort between illustrator Christopher Mitten, and colorist John Rauch. They work in tandem to produce a dark, gritty, and a trope-heavy medieval European world — in terms of style, setting, and dress — and effectively find a balance between Rauch’s dark palette of purple and blues, and Mitten’s scratchy stroke techniques and bold inks. On the topic of bold inks, Thomas Maur’s letters are hard to decipher at times, specifically the dialogue provided for the evil spirits, but chalk that up to an understandable, though poorly executed creative choice. Mitten continues to establish himself as a stylistically recognizable and distinguished artist in the industry, and his work within this book and outside this series has been visually stimulating.
“Umbral” #1 proves to be another successful comics endeavor for Johnston and Mitten, and highlights many of the typical core elements of the high fantasy genre. Looking forward to more.
Reviewed by – ShadowJayd