Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten’s “Umbral” #3 continues its frenetic pace as heroine Rascal and her unlikely partner Dalone make a run for safety only to find themselves face with even more Umbral.
Johnston’s story is plenty captivating — what with his characters in possession of a dangerous and powerful mystical object, lots of scary things trying to kill them and the fate of the world likely hanging in the balance — but it’s not the concept or the plotting that’s the real draw here; it’s the voice. Johnston has a strong clear voice for his characters, one that is plenty likable and engaging, but also feels relatable and grounded enough to work for his story. Rascal especially stands out as a great protagonist that’s unconventional, but not in a way that feels like Johnston is trying too hard. It’s not new to have characters speak in a (mostly) modern way in “high fantasy”-feeling pieces, but not everyone can get it right. I’m happy to say that Johnston does.
Mitten’s art continues to be both energetic and atmospheric. He’s strong all around with good character designs, solid acting, easy-to-follow storytelling, and both believable and creative execution of the extensive world building. However, the standout in these pages is his design for and execution of the Umbral, which just pop out of the page with a wonderfully fluid, terrifying and cool design. There’s a delightful grittiness to Mitten and colorist Jordan Boyd’s combined style that works well for “Umbral,” giving it a feeling of depth and texture that so many other books like it lack. This issue could have used a little bit more distinction, perhaps by Boyd, between the past events and the present events. The distinction is there, but a bit too subtle to be helpful in clarifying the time periods.
One of the most creative visual elements to the book — the magical language that some characters have briefly spoken — is actually something Johnston came up with and executes himself. It presents as an actual visual inside a customized word balloon, rather than simply words and it’s both striking on the page, and a great way to really drive home the point of how intense this magic is. The idea that for those who don’t understand it, it is so incomprehensible that it doesn’t even present as actual words is wonderful. It’s the kind of creative thinking that I love to see in a book like this.
Three issues in, “Umbral” remains intriguing, with a fresh modern voice paired with high-fantasy in a way that feels relatable and cool. Rascal is a fantastic protagonist and the fact that she zigs when you think she’s going to zag, even just in dialogue, is incredibly refreshing and fun.