With an action-packed opening issue, “Umbral” never pauses to slow down as Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten drag Rascal all over Strakhelm in a desperate bid for her life. Johnston and Mitten’s world building skills are out in full force for the series’ second issue, where Rascal finds assistance from an unlikely ally: a foreign spellcaster. Johnston throws out a lot of new information in small, fast paced doses that effectively flesh out the politics of Rascal’s society while speeding the plot along with action and humor; Mitten’s style gels nicely with Johnston’s writing in his creative character designs and fluid motion.
Johnston has found an excellent expository device in newcomer Dalone; as a foreigner, Dalone — though acquainted with Strakhelm culture — isn’t overly familiar with it, which lends Johnston a sensible outlet in which to divulge more information about the “Umbral” universe. As Rascal explains her people’s laws and politics, her dialogue feels natural and makes sense within the context of the plot without overwhelming the reader with an avalanche of new information. What’s more, Dalone prompts some interesting new questions surrounding magic and the way it fits into Rascal’s society. Where Rascal carries the plot through her fun, conversational narrative voice, Dalone allows the universe’s finer details to unfold in a natural way.
Where Johnston builds Strakhelm through dialogue, Mitten forms it through fascinating costume decisions and sweeping landscapes. He captures Starkhelm’s fantastical, feudalistic atmosphere in tall ramparts that overlook the ocean. In designing the city this way, he enhances the fantasy element of the book by giving the impression that it was built by magic, while likewise instilling a sense of total isolation. His decision to attire Rascal in a dress is similarly fantastic; her dress accents her movements, adding a fluid, aesthetically pleasing dimension to her character as she flees across town. However, his character work simply needs more expression in a few areas. For instance, as Rascal’s mentor shifts into an Umbral and knocks her off a balcony, she looks only mildly surprised in a moment where she should be genuinely terrified.
Colorist John Rauch’s work gives the book its own, instantly recognizable look with his purple, black, and green overtones. These dark, muted colors — woven together with the comic’s trademark purple theme — heighten the ethereal atmosphere of the story and enhance the feeling of dread inspired by writing and the art. What’s more, Rauch reserves his bright colors for moments that pack a punch, like the fiery red of the Umbral’s eyes and Dalone’s spell. By using these colors sparingly, his color choices effectively improve climactic moments.
This book is only the latest comic in a line of fantastic Image titles. Its effectiveness does great credit to the joint effort of Johnston, Mitten, and Rauch, as each individual steadily builds off and improves the other. With a distinct look and great gusto, “Umbral” continues to wow with fast paced action, inventive world building, and just the right amount of humor.