The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Eighteen.

§ August 7th, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 13 Comments

Back to the fave ’80s titles survey, with the next three-vote getter:

Mage (The Hero Discovered) (Comico 1984-1986)

In 1983 we saw writer/artist Matt Wagner’s Grendel, which had its run cut short at three issues. The covers were quite striking, Wagner’s then-amateurish-but-charming art assisted by subdued coloring. The interiors were simplistic and, to a certain extent, crude, but clearly promise was there and the story (of our title character, a glamorous villain, pit against a not-so-pretty hero) remained compelling. But with the story half-completed in this format, we didn’t get a chance to see Wagner learn on the job, improving his artwork and storytelling skills as we watched.

Not so with Mage (subtitled “The Hero Discovered” on the cover), as we can clearly watch Wagner’s evolution as a comics creator over the course of this 15-issue series (helped in no small part by inker Sam Kieth, who comes on midway through the run). Looking at the first issue compared to the last…well, I’m not going to say it’s like looking at two different artists, because clearly you can see the line from one artistic state of being to the other, but there certainly is a notable refinement in form.

The story is…well, our hero, the surely-by-coincidence-looking-like-his-creator Kevin Matchstick is called upon by Mirth (the titular Mage) to protect the Fisher King from the Grackleflints, spawn of the evil Umbra Sprite, and whatever mystical menaces they unleash. In this Kevin is assisted by Sean (a ghost) and the streetwise Edsel.

…Yeah, that’s a bit, but it all works in context, I promise.

The story continues in Mage (The Hero Defined) published by Image from 1997 to 1999 (including a #0 issue you had to mail away for), and concludes in Mage: The Hero Denied from 2017 to 2019 (also from Image, also with a #0 issue that, this time, you could buy in stores). The second series deals with Kevin working alongside other mythical heroes, and the third series has him as a husband and father once again called into battle against mystical evils.

The best way to read this first series however, aside from collecting the original issues (which shouldn’t be too hard at this point) is to get the Donning reprint volumes released in 1987-8. These are oversized, printed on nice, slick paper, and even include the Mage back-ups from the second Grendel series. Comico also published a thing called Magebook that reprinted four issues in each of the (far as I can tell) two volumes released. I think these may have been rebound copies of the actual issues, I’m not sure. I also seem to recall they weren’t…terribly sturdy, but maybe someone can chime in and let me know.

There was an 8-issue series from Image reprinting “The Hero Discovered” in the late ’90s, but…mmm, I’d probably avoid that one. As I understand (and correct me if I’m wrong) due to Wagner no longer having the original art or the film shot from that art, current reprints of this story are sourced from actual printed copies of the original Comico comics. And for this series, the art was relettered and some digital effects applied to some of the artwork, and…it wasn’t great, as I recall. I believe there were several typos in the relettering, and the added effects were very much of the “because we can do them” variety. I don’t know, maybe those effects were covering up defects caused by the less-than-ideal method of obtaining the artwork, but they certainly didn’t appeal to my eye.

As of right now, more or less, all three series have been reprinted in a series of paperbacks, or three hardcovers, from Image (with the typos hopefully fixed in the first series, but the digital fiddling is likely still present). Checking with Diamond’s current stock even as I type this, they have the hardcovers for the first two series and one of the two books reprinting the last series. (EDIT: my mistake, a third hardcover reprinting Denied appears to have never been released.)

Again, ideally, just get the original comics if you can. It’s good stuff all the way through, you get the letters pages, and in that first series you get the Grendel back-ups (telling the full story that was never finished in that 1983 comic). Oh, and you have to get Grendel (2nd series) #16-#19 for the Mage “Interlude” back-ups.

However you get it, it’s a fun read, and it’s hard to believe, looking at the dates, that I read all of these series as they came out, and waited patiently over the literal decade between each one. It was weird, to age along with Mage. Well, Kevin, but that didn’t rhyme.

Anyway, as I’ve said half-jokingly before, I’m still awaiting the fourth series, “The Hero Disco-Dances.” C’MON, WAGNER

As an added bonus, here’s a post from about a year and a half ago with an old piece of Mage promotional material.

13 Responses to “The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Eighteen.”

  • Tom W says:

    I bought the first of those Donning volumes, and I can still taste my disappointment across 30 years… wild, experimental Grendel writer Matt Wagner doing this pedestrian, semi-amateur comic about a guy whose most memorable characteristic was his need for a Cherry Coke? Never read the rest, and it was a lesson in realising that Wagner is a creator whose work I only like some of. Picked up Mage volume two in issues a few years back and confirmed that despite the sophistication and the appearance of all those other great Canadian artists, it’s not for me. Grendel, though…

  • Sean Mageean says:

    I thought the first run of Mage was great–but never read the subsequent runs. I wonder to what extent Wagner based Edsel on The Spirit’s Ebony (but gender swapped and without the problematic aspects), and if Kevin Matchstick’s surname came about as a result of Wagner listening to “Pictures of Matchstick Men” by Status Quo (or the Camper Van Beethoven remake–if it was released before Mage no. 1)? Also, wasn’t Mage airbrushed .. or something about the colors seemed distinct as I recall. I also really dug the original Hunter Rose Grendel stories…never followed it much after the Pandar Bros. took over and different Grendels became the norm…

  • Yorick says:

    Whenever did the Hero Denied hardcover collection come out? I know it was promised, but never saw an announcement, and can’t find anything about it.

  • Cassandra Miller says:

    My copy of one of the Donning/Starblaze books (I think volume one?) has bad binding, with some pages coming out, but they are treasured collections.

    Yorick, when I asked Matt about that in 2019 (at Emerald City Comicon), he told me there weren’t plans for a “complete” collection, just the smaller collections of 4 or 5 issues each. I hope that’s not still true!

  • D says:

    I gotta agree with Tom above about MAGE. Adored GRENDEL, love the Wagner art but the story was just a snooze. I dropped Vol. 1 after issue 3 or 4 back in the day.

  • Mikester says:

    Whoops, sorry, I jumped the gun on a third Mage hardcover. Sorry for the confusion.

  • Mike Loughlin says:

    I found the two Magebooks for cheap at a comic book store, and liked them. The second half of the series proved hard to find in my area. I eventually had to settle for the Image reprints, and can confirm they were not the best way to read the series.

    I quite liked The Hero Defined, but still haven’t read The Hero Denied. I’ll get around to it someday, like several other “good, but not my fave” comics.

  • DavidG says:

    Just did a reread of all these. The art is very good, but the story is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. The last series is just kind of dull, I had almost completely forgotten it even though I only read it a couple of years ago.

    I have half the first series in the form of Image reprints of two issues each. I think they came out about the same time as the second series. They are the most annoying reprints I own, it’s like they have too much glue or something and the pages are crinkled and don’t open properly. I have wanted to crack the spine of a book more, but even that probably wouldn’t fix it.

  • TIP says:

    Man, The Hero Discovered is an all-time favorite. Sadly, diminishing returns with each subsequent series.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “Mage (The Hero Defined)”

    I liked that better than the first series. Mind you, iInever read the entire runs of either one.


    Denied? DENIED!

    ““The Hero Disco-Dances.””

    The Hero Retires?

    “I wonder to what extent Wagner based Edsel on The Spirit’s Ebony”

    She’s not based on the Car?

    ““Pictures of Matchstick Men” by Status Quo ”

    Ozzy also did a cover, several years back.

  • tomthedog says:

    I remember getting those Donning collections at the world-famous (or at least it should be) A Change of Hobbit fantasy/sci-fi bookstore in Berkeley back around 1990 or so. It’s undeniably rough in the beginning but I think by then the reputation of Mage was strong enough that I stuck with it and I absolutely loved it. I think I’d rate the three series exactly as you did, with the best of Mage rivaling the best of Grendel (which for me will always be the Pander Bros. run). Still waiting for Grimjack on your list :) Wait, does First Comics not count as indie? Never mind

  • Rob S. says:

    Well, count me as among the people who treasured the original series, in part, at least, because they “discovered it.” I think my first issue was 9 or 10, but I swiftly went to the back issues and was able to accumulate a complete collection.

    The subsequent series disappointed me a little, but it’s hard to recapture the magic you feel when you’re 14.

    I’ll have to dig them out and read all three series again. It’s been ages since I read volume 1, and I don’t think I ever reread volumes 2 or 3.

  • Patrick says:

    I really wish Dark Horse would grab this from image and do one of their big oversized collections of this. * sigh *