After something of a mid-arc slump, “Umbral” #10 sees the series getting back into form. The Umbral make their move, Rascal’s paranoia amplifies and the gang is soon to be reunited – all while the Crown’s hunt for the “traitors” intensifies. Johnston’s gotten much of the explaining out of the way, and he can let all the events he’s set up come to a head. Mitten and Boyd no longer have to draw so many farm and road scenes, and they can return to the fantastic elements they’re so skilled with. Though “Umbral” still has an excess of subplots, this issue is a great reminder of why the series is worth sticking with.
Rascal remains my favorite part of the series. Her relationship to her world, and particularly to her mentors, is fresh and interesting – even as it draws on common cliches. She’s untrusting, like nearly every ‘scrappy young thief’ archetype, but her distrust is intellectual rather than emotional. She’s always trying to outthink the people around her, and she’s angry rather than devastated when they deserve her suspicions. When Dalone says, “I’ve never lied to you,” she snaps, “Oh, shut up!” Growing up in “Umbral” means outgrowing your mentors – whether it’s coming to their aid, realizing that they lie or growing frustrated with their prejudices. It’s an honest approach to the coming-of-age tale that doesn’t feel contrived.
That said, some of the plot building is less successful than the character building. I like when a series keeps me guessing, but some of Johnston’s reveals haven’t been hinted at enough to feel organic. For instance, Dalone’s revelations about the way that history has been altered feel sudden; I wish they’d been pushed a touch more strongly in previous issues. With so many secrets and competing factions, something is bound to get short shrift, but a closer eye to structure could alleviate most of the problems. Still, “Umbral” has built subtly toward many of its other reveals, and I enjoy seeing the secrets come out of the shadows.
Mitten and Boyd’s artwork comes up against its limitations when too many mere mortals fight one another, so I was delighted that this issue kept the battles to the Umbral. The scenes with the Mistwalker and the Umbral were gorgeous and fun to read. Mitten plays more with perspective than he usually does, and Boyd’s colors are as beautiful as ever. Thomas Mauer’s lettering effect for the use of magic — wordless, jagged bubbles of varying color — complements these scenes quite well. Though the Umbral scenes are my favorite, those scenes in the physical world work nicely, too. Boyd colors Tolgleam with more green than brown, so the scenery feels less dingy than some of the forest and farm scenes in previous issues.
Altogether, the issue is a welcome sign of things to come. After the initial coup in the first issue, the Umbral haven’t made another real power play — until now. I’m excited to see what will happen with the Mistwalker loosed, and Shayim and Munty back in the picture.