Kevin Matchstick is a man in his late 20's or early 30's, with no particular direction to his life and nothing much to live for. One night, wandering drunk down the streets, he encounters a young, seemingly homeless man who asks him about himself and to whom he gives the deepest answers he has ever given. Shortly afterwards, he sees a homeless man being beaten up in an alley and jumps in to save him.
But the man's attacker isn't human. He's something in a trenchcoat, with white skin and spurs on his elbows. Kevin manages to defeat the thing, but the old man dies, not before saying a strange word, "Grackleflint". Kevin calls the cops, but doesn't stay around to answer questions, especially when he realizes that the old man's attacker is gone. When he gets back to his own place, he finds the same young man he talked to earlier there, one who seems to know about the attack, and who tells Kevin some pretty strange things.
For one thing, Kevin is meant to be a Hero. Not a small "h" hero, but a Hero, with a destiny. The young man, whose name is Mirth, is meant to be his guide, and happens to be a magician as well. He tells Kevin that the thing that attacked him is known as a Grackleflint, and it is one of the children of the Umbra Spirit. The spurs on their elbows are poisonous, and can kill incredibly swiftly, even someone like Kevin. Kevin himself has power, and now that he has met Mirth, that power can protect him in some situations, but not in all.
Kevin wants nothing to do with being a hero, but the Umbra Spirit, and his five sons, the Gracklefints, are not content with just avoiding Kevin. They actively seek to kill him, summoning horrible monsters with the hope of destroying Kevin and those who might support him. Among them are Edsel, a young black woman with a thing for Edsel cars, who prefers Edsel to her real name, and a ghost named Sean who died in the 50's and lived for decades not realizing he was a ghost until he was confronted by Mirth and an attack on Kevin by Fae Redcaps.
But the Umbra Spirit and his sons won't rest until they have done away with Kevin and his allies, for his presence alone disrupts all their plans to take over the world. But unless Kevin accepts his role as a Hero and believes in himself and what they are fighting for, he has no chance to save the world and those he thinks of as his friends. And when it all comes down to it, can Kevin find it in himself to believe that he is a fated Hero and that the world is his to save, along with the Fisher King and everyone else? Or will his flaws of anger and disbelief bring about his downfall?
I first read this series as one of the first independent comic studios comics I had ever read. Before that, I had read some books by Marvel. including the Avengers, the X-Men (when they were reprinting the second X-men Team stories, with Beast before he had the whole Blue-Hair or Cat-like look and when Wolverine joined the team) and even some DC comics, but Comico was my first Indie Publisher. I got into not only the Mage series, but Grendel as well (though I never found Grendel to be as interesting as Mage).
There is so much interesting stuff in Mage, from Arthurian stuff to actual bits and pieces of Matt Wagner's life. The story, while mired in the everyday and here and now, hints at mythological and lyrical stuff beneath the surface, and its message is all about embracing what you are every single day. Your destiny may not be to vanquish dragons, but everyone can be a hero in their own way and in their own life. And despite Kevin not believing in himself, his hope is expressed in shirts that have the logo of Captain Marvel, a comic about an ordinary boy gifted with the power to become something special, and a hero as well. Once could say that Kevin wanted to be a Hero all along, but it was not believing in himself that made him what he called, "An active spectator."
This was one of Matt Wagner's first comics, and he threw a lot of himself. and a lot of love into this work. The story works as both a straight story, a myth, and a cosmic retelling of the story of Arthur. It's incredibly enjoyable, and while there was an entire issue with no action and just a conversation between Mirth and Kevin, it still sparkles and is not boring to read in the slightest. Any comic creator would be pleased to have this as one of their works and it still holds your attention and interest incredibly well today. Highly recommended.