Some readers have been waiting 33 years for this one, but that patience is about to be rewarded: Kevin Matchstick has returned, as creator Matt Wagner begins the third and final installment of his epic fantasy trilogy Mage.
The adventure begins on July 12 with a half-sized prelude installment in Mage: The Hero Denied from Image Comics. Then, as with both previous Mage stories, Kevin’s tale will unfold over fifteen issues, concluding in a double-sized finale.
After first appearing in Mage: The Hero Discovered (1984-1986) and then continuing in Mage: The Hero Denied (1997-1999), Kevin Matchstick’s story has remained Wagner’s most personal project. While on the surface, Mage follows the life of Kevin Matchstick, the reborn Pendragon, King Arthur, living in the modern world, beset by mystical foes and aided by supernatural allies, the series is, at its deepest level, a vivid allegory for Wagner’s own life and coming of age.
With Mage: The Hero Denied, Wagner (also known in the annals of comic history as the creator of Grendel) brings Kevin’s saga to a close. He graciously took some time out to talk to CBR about concluding the story of his own fictional avatar, trying to not think about Mage during the interim years, and how Kevin is now disconnected from his role as the Hero.
And for readers new to Mage, don’t worry: There are plans to get you caught up.
CBR: Matt, what finally brought you back to Mage? Was there a moment, an event, when it finally hit you and you said, “It’s time”?
Matt Wagner: Well, as I’ve said many times before, Mage is a really special and unique artistic endeavor for me. It’s unlike anything else I do or have done over the long course of my career. In fact, I always like to say that I don’t really decide when to work on Mage… Mage decides when it’s time for me to work on it. Seriously, in the interim years between each volume of the trilogy, I basically don’t think about this narrative at all. In fact, I try not to because I don’t want the ideas to be stale by the time I return to that world. But then… boo, suddenly I can’t think about anything but Mage.
I also have to give some credit to my son this time around. For a while now, he’d been pestering me, “Dad, it’s time for you to do Mage again. Dad, it’s time for you to do Mage again. Dad…” Then he and his fiancee took a trip to Europe, and while they were gone, I found my mind turning more and more to Kevin Matchstick and how the final volume would unfold. Needless to say, my son was ecstatic when he and his gal got back to the States and I told him, “Yeah… it’s time. I’m finishing Mage.”
It’s been 18 years since readers saw Kevin. Has a similar amount of time passed for him?
No… The Hero Denied picks up about 10 years after the previous book in the trilogy, The Hero Defined. As many readers know, Mage is what I like to call an “autobiographical allegory” -- meaning I translate the events and relationships from my life into the tropes of an epic fantasy. I now realize that I had to wait and see how certain aspects of my life were going to play out before fictionalizing them in this last book of Mage.
When last we saw Kevin he’d gone through two momentous life changes -- he’d blown up his magic bat, which acted as his Excalibur, the focal point of his power, which certainly changed his outlook on his quest and his methods; and he proposed marriage to Magda, which has far more personal implications. Where is he when The Hero Denied #0 opens?
The Hero Denied #0 is an intro-sized issue that features the third Interlude, a motif that I’ve traditionally used to bridge the gap between the books of the trilogy. So, that short story takes place between the events of Defined and Denied. The first full-sized issue of the ongoing series, The Hero Denied #1 takes up, as I said, about 10 years after the previous book.
And, yeah… there’s quite a few changes that have occurred in Kevin’s life. The bat is gone, destroyed as much by his own arrogance as by the machinations of his mystical enemies. And, after proposing to Magda, their relationship has followed the natural course of such an event. I don’t really want to reveal too much about what happens but I will say this: at the start of the new series, Kevin has never been more powerful… nor as disconnected from his role as the Hero reborn. Thus… the title.
Mage has always been planned as a trilogy, but you’ve been very upfront about it containing autobiographical elements that you needed to live before you could write it. I’m curious though: are there any elements -- the Arthurian arc, the role of the Umbra Sprite and Grackleflints, or of Mirth and Wally -- that have more or less been there from the beginning?
Well, the relationship between the Hero and his mentor, the Mage, has been the one consistent factor throughout. And, as you said, that connection is portrayed through a filter of the events of my own life. I’ve always had a love of myths and legends and that resonates in all those narrative aspects that you mentioned. Readers of the new series will find an all-new stage of Kevin’s journey as the Hero… but they’ll also recognize many familiar elements from the previous parts of the trilogy as well.
Have you given any thought to how the audience for Mage has developed during the long layoffs, and is there any consideration to rebuilding the Mage brand? For example, I first read Defined and now certainly some readers will have Denied as their introduction to Kevin’s world.
Absolutely! We’re repackaging all of the previous published material into new editions to make it easy and convenient for new readers to catch up. Both Book I: The Hero Discovered and Book II: The Hero Defined will be republished, with each one being split into two volumes. Volume I of The Hero Discovered actually ships to stores the same day as The Hero Denied #0. We’ll be slowly releasing the rest of the volumes intermittently with the regular issues of the new series. There’ll be plenty of Mage available, for sure!
Not to overplay the autobiographical elements in Mage, but there are a few aspects of where Kevin is during The Hero Denied that struck me as interesting. This is the final leg of Kevin’s journey. When you started thinking about writing this installment, did it strike you in any way that your avatar’s journey is reaching its conclusion, while your own is still ongoing?
Oh sure. I’ve wondered about that for years… how that will affect me both professionally and creatively. And, yeah… it’s made me wonder where and how the whole thing will end. Because, as I mentioned, I try to not plan too far ahead with Mage. I tend to follow the characters and let the story unfold much like the very journey I’m portraying. But at its core, Mage has always been about growing up—about learning to believe in oneself, about how to accept responsibility and how to understand both others and the world around you. At a certain point in my own life history, I’d have to say that, yeah… I’m grown up. But Kevin still has one more step to go.
Also, Kevin has always had allies to accompany him on his adventures, often carrying physical or personal traits of artists you’ve collaborated with. Your son Brennan is a comic artist and works as a colorist on many of your projects, including on The Hero Denied. And Kevin did propose to Magda in the finale of The Hero Defined… You see where I’m going with Kevin’s youthful page figure, don’t you?
Well… as you said, Kevin has always had a posse, a crew, an entourage that both support and motivate many aspects of his journey. And, yeah…I draw inspiration for those characters from the people in my actual life, sometimes as direct analogs and sometimes as an amalgam of several different personas. But no matter what you choose to call that group with whom you forge a tight bond and share many, many common experiences… posse, crew or entourage… in the end, it’s really just your family. And yeah, of course, Kevin again has a family this time around.
Kevin’s always had a mentor figure in previous installments -- Mirth and then Wally. But he has also assumed a (sometimes unwanted) leadership role with other heroes, including Edsel, Joe Phat and Kirby Hero. Does that dual role, the student and the mentor, continue? Or is that just the human condition, always learning, always teaching?
I often have to remind people that the title of the book is Mage. And that our hero, Kevin Matchstick isn’t the Mage. The archetypical Hero’s Journey is a tale of enlightenment and yeah, it’s very human experience. It’s about deciding to take an active stance against the hard gravity of darkness and destruction… and making sure the echo of those adventures resonate through the ages. And, as with any excursion into the dark unknown, sometimes you need a guide and sometimes you’re in the position to guide. When The Hero Denied begins, Kevin has been without any hint of his mystical mentor for quite a while and the path that once seemed so clear to him now seems repetitive and pointless. But one thought is always in the back of his mind. “Where is he?” he wonders. “Who is the third Mage?”
Any chance of readers seeing old friends like Joe or Kirby?
Like I said, there will definitely be some familiar faces to be found.
Kevin’s journey is ending, but yours is not. Have you given any thought to what comes next?
Sure, of course I have. Where one path ends, many others branch off in all directions. But, for now…we’ll have to leave it at that.
Mage: The Hero Denied #0 and Mage: The Hero Discovered Vol. 1 are available now from Image Comics. Mage: The Hero Denied #1 is scheduled for release on Aug. 16.