Everything about the first issue of Mystik U feels like a blockbuster in the making. A series which gathers together almost every major magic-user in DC’s back catalogue, the story proves to be an engaging read for new and continuing comics fans alike, with a cast of characters who bear resemblance to their former selves while spinning out in a more contemporary direction. Despite a slight false start, the story offers readers a whole world to engage in, free from the constraints of a shared multi-book universe, even as it indulges in all the fan service and continuity-nods that long-term readers are going to appreciate.
PREVIEW: Mystik U #1
The true start of the comic proper comes after two prologue sequences, neither of which particularly work in and of the moment -- they’re laying groundwork for later stories, and both feel rather crammed in and redundant to the immediate narrative of this first "book." In the capable hands of Mike Norton and Jordie Bellaire, the reader gets to follow lead character Zatanna as she steps through a portal right onto the grounds of Mystik U itself, a university which teaches magic-users how to control and explore their abilities. This opening splash page throws away the darkness of the prologues and brings in a whole new palette, showing off almost every one of the main cast members of the book in one go.
And this is how the book manages to escape the DC Universe and offer something different, change up the core audience for the story. Using teenage versions of characters like Zatanna, Enchantress and Faust allows for each to be reimagined in various ways -- Faust is now a cool jacket-wearing loner whilst Enchantress literally changes her identity at various points in the story through changing her outfit and hair color. They keep some elements of their previous identity whilst fitting roughly in the stereotypes required of American school dramas. Meanwhile, the remaining bigger-name magic characters like Madame Xanadu are kept in their "classic" stylings, and fit into the role of teachers at the University.
It’s a smart approach to filling out the book which helps the feeling that this is an important, fleshed-out story rather than a standard alt-universe tale. Every character has history at DC, and filling the book with familiar faces strengthens the idea that this is the new central home for magic at DC. It’s similar to Marvel’s Avengers: The Initiative in that regard, filled with cameos which feel natural to the intent of the series and provide a history to the University. The teaching staff get together for conversation halfway through, and characters from all points in history -- from the 1970s and 1990s, all the way back to mythological characters like Merlin -- are sat at the table, discussing contemporary issues. It’s really engaging to see the whole of DC’s history coalesce in this way, but at each turn writer Alisa Kwitney takes care to ensure that her young leads are the focus and driving force for the story.
And they mostly come across very well. Norton’s designs set up the rough idea for each character even as Kwitney then carefully starts deconstructing each stock type to mold them into more authentic and unpredictable roles. Saigon the Sorcerer stands out particularly here, an out-of-date character who walks into this series reimagined as a nice boy with a nice sweater and overactive parents. Introduced as perhaps a bit of a sap, his story arc leads to some surprising places within the first issue, and it’s with these introverted little character twists that Kwitney scores strongest for readers.
The story marries the mad and mystical with the ordinary, and hits the same kind of charm that a certain other magic-based schooling series made its name on more than a decade ago. For every scene of giant trees coming to life, there’s a scene of the characters sat in a normal room, talking to each other and trying to work themselves out. That balance, ultimately, is what makes Mystik U not only such an entertaining comic, but also what gives the entire approach such a powerful feeling of potential.
After reading the first issue, people are going to want to know more about it -- to draw fan-art, write fan-fic, develop cosplay and build themselves into the world. It’s an inclusive and engaging world, with fun characters and a love for DC legacy. The concept is strong, but the execution is brilliant, and if DC can get this book out to the right readers, they’re looking at their next big breakout hit with Mystik U.