Emma Rios and Hwei Lim’s “Mirror” #1 is a fantasy comic, complete with talking animals, magic and a troubled kingdom. The story has three main characters: Ivan, a mage; Sena, a talking dog; and Zun, a talking rat. Opening the comic with an idyllic scene between boy and dog, Lim makes the sequence feel familiar with Art Nouveau-like window frames as panel borders. On the second page, their relationship is revealed to be not as simple as it first seems, and Lim’s panel composition skews into a less harmonious design as Ivan and Sena are separated. The rest of the prologue illustrates another separation, one which holds the weight of the central moral struggle of the story. Rios and Lim keep their world building concise and neatly avoid information dumps.
The story jumps thirty years ahead and introduces the third main character, Zun, and also Lesnik, a prisoner. Lesnik is a foil for Sena; he is old, gentle and lost, while she is young and full of rage. Lesnik’s eventual fate furthers the characterization of both the compassionate Ivan, who wants to free him, and the knowledge-hungry Kazbek, who wants to use him. Lesnik’s portrayal is too shallow for the reader to get attached to him, and Zun’s introduction is far less emotionally charged than Ivan and Sena’s relationship. The action feels slower in these scenes, even when Ivan and Sena reappear.
Lim’s watercolor-like marks are beautiful, especially the mosaic-like patterns for the floors and the architectural details. Every scene looks bathed in sunlight, lit by Lim’s graceful shading and the underlying white background, and the aesthetic details flow and guide the reader’s eye. Lim’s art complements and heightens the slow, dreamy style and mood of Rios’ prose. Both diction and imagery are attractive, but they slow down the forward motion. However, I’m not a fan of the lettering style; while easily legible, it’s also stiff and doesn’t change shape or intensity in order to emphasize speech patterns or vocal differences.
Sena and Ivan’s relationship is more violently emotional, but it’s Kazbek and Ivan’s relationship — with its father/son or mentor/student tensions — that is the most gripping. Rios writes an unusually nuanced and realistic portrayal of an antagonist this early in the story. Kazbek’s gentle manner, distaste for violence and powers of observation soften his faults. The rest of the cast is much flatter in comparison, and the cantankerous Sphinx feels like a stock character. Zun provides an accessible point of view and seems destined to be the Frodo of the story, though he isn’t further defined beyond that.
The last scene is rendered in an almost impressionistic style that is fragmented and lovely. However, the dramatic change in art style is momentarily confusing because it doesn’t signal a shift in the timeline. The art also distracts from the dialogue, but it does create mood and mystery around the flawed but not wholly evil characters in the scene.
While all the characters are sympathetic, almost none of the plot feels new. Idealistic heroes, star-crossed lovers and oppression are all familiar elements of fairy tales and classic fantasy, and Rios’ usage of them is by the book. The obvious moral lessons about bigotry and compassion also don’t have any new twists added quite yet. Despite this, “Mirror” #1 still has a lot of emotional power and the art is entrancing.