“Umbral” #5 is beautifully drawn and smartly written, as Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten dive into the origin myths of Fendin. While Prince Arthir and company plot, Profoss Munty walks Rascal and Shayim through a CliffNotes of Fendish history and folklore, including the creation the Umbral, the discovery of Mist and the legend of Strakan. With all the ancient battles and arcane summonings, this is the most traditionally “high fantasy” that “Umbral” has gotten since the map in Issue #1. But it’s all imbued with the same modern, accessible tone, thanks to present-day conversations that keep the story grounded and wry. Yet again, “Umbral” proves it’s a series to love.
The Umbral were born during a land-grab battle between divine brothers (thus do all terrible things begin), and Mitten plumbs his imagination for the seven or so pages which illustrate this. He’s limited by the scope of the script, as they’re keeping many of the details under wraps, so these aren’t his most creative panels. Still, the bits that he can flesh out, such as the characters designs of the three brothers, are clear and effective.
One of these issues, I will stop talking about Jordan Boyd’s colors, but this is not that issue. To differentiate Profoss Munty’s legends from the present, he uses a flatter, lighter variation of the purples and pinks that color the supernatural in this world. This palette gives the myths an aura of age, as if the parchment they were written on has faded, while also making the colors seem purer, almost crystallized. It looks lovely and legendary without stepping too far from the usual feel of the world.
Even in this issue, though, “Umbral” keeps the highfalutin out of high fantasy by interjecting the mythic with deflation from the audience. When Dalone dramatically declares that he is “the one who will teach [Rascal] to wield magic, to save us all from the Umbral,” Rascal answers with “I knew he talked funny for a tramp.” Similarly, Shayim interrupts Profoss Munty’s legends to listen at the door, and Rascal tells him to hurry it up. Worlds feel a bit fake if everyone treats history with too much reverence. Rascal and Shayim are fittingly less interested in why they’re being chased and more intrigued by how they might outrun.
In general, there’s a refreshing interest in the micro in this series. So many fantasy stories are about epic movements. And though “Umbral” began with a royal assassination and usurpation by shadow creatures — admittedly big stuff there — it’s easy to forget how little has happened over the past few issues. Rascal is still in basically the same place she was in Issue #2: running from the law, confused, but holding on to the Oculus. She’s had few answers and even less impact on nation-level events, but it’s been an utterly engaging ride.
Enjoyable, interesting and a credit to its genre, “Umbral” is a comic I give to everyone. I give this review to you so that you will do the same.