Alisa Kwitney And Mike Norton Take The Magical DCU Back To School – Mystik U #1

by Noah Sharma

It’s a bit surreal to hold Mystik U in your hands. Originally announced ahead of DC’s last rebranding effort, DC You, Mystic U finally arrives over a year into DC Rebirth. So, did the nearly three year gap between announcement and release spoil this project or was it all worth the wait?

Mystik U, wisely and seemingly consciously, doesn’t firmly claim a place within or outside of Rebirth (or New 52 for that matter) continuity. It also cleverly plays the odds, essentially delivering an overdue Zatanna title that also serves as a full reimagining of a number of DC’s lesser known magical characters.

Alisa Kwitney writes a solid Zatanna, especially at a formative point in her life. Though there’s neither a vast depth to the interpretation nor a new defining trait, Mystik U’s Zatanna feels enormously more authentic than the average teenager in comics, and that reality goes a long way. She may be ‘just another girl’ in many scenes, but Zatanna, the character, is never subsumed by her role as protagonist and, in a comic, a teen drama, and especially a teen drama comic, that’s something that can’t be said too often.

Kwitney’s new version of Sargon the Sorcerer, the more culturally sensitive Davit, is charming in his slightly spineless sincerity, and the Enchantress proves distinctly well suited to the ‘high school AU’ setting. Meanwhile, explicitly making Felix Faust’s Cyclops-esque son the series’ Draco in Leather Pants is surprisingly fun and gives the book a shot of weight at key moments. Finally, and perhaps predictably, Kwitney does particularly wonderful things with her seemingly original creation, Pia Morales. Pia is a leading lady in her own right and interacts naturally with any character you put her on the page with. Pia’s probably the closest to a breakout character that the series gets here, but there really isn’t a weak link among the cast.

Mystik U does some great things with lesser known characters, making Mister E. a memorable figure, calling on Cain and Abel to great effect, and providing a fantastic reboot of Doctor Occult, who likely comes out of this issue the best.

Though I wouldn’t say that the book is poorly paced overall–it flows nicely through character interactions on a page-to-page level and developing mysteries on the issue level–it’s hard not to notice that certain elements of the story are exceedingly rushed. The introduction to Mystik U is fairly brief and the degree to which Zatara’s disappearance is brushed off is frankly laughable. I mean, maybe that’s something we’re learning about Zatanna, but it feels like it should have either resolved or weighed more heavily on her character. The apparent lack of space to deal with these and other threads more completely is unfortunate, but, once you consider that this is a double length issue with no ads, it becomes a little bizarre.

Kwitney is not shy about paying homage to classics of the ‘magic school’ genre, thoroughly enjoying and inviting readers to enjoy the fun of a ‘DC Hogwarts’, but though she acknowledges the shoulders on which Mystik U stands, the familiarity is merely a pleasant skin for a story with a DC heart and its own mind. The series counterbalances its tropey nature with a surprisingly sincere optimism and inclusivity.

Especially for how grim the faculty and staff are, another well implemented trope of magic, Mystik U is great fun. Just look how our heroes deal with the monster of the week or its clever, supernatural twists on college life. That excitement, the fun of magic, is rewarded, even as the greater narrative points to the heavy consequences that come with it.

The mystery of which of our heroes will become a world ending threat is high school heroes 101, but it’s particularly well executed here. There are clues littered all throughout this issue, unobtrusively reminding readers that magic, for all its spectacle, it built on misdirection and what’s happening behind the scenes.

Mike Norton and Jordie Bellaire are quite an effective art team for this book, giving each moment the look that best serves it while still fostering a sense of unity within the art. Though there are many exceptions, the aesthetic is largely defined by the attractive flatness that Norton and Bellaire utilize, especially once the action shifts to the school itself. There’s something of a throwback vibe to it, almost recalling the art of Doc Shaner or Darwyn Cooke, that suits the story, stocked with characters and concepts that flourished before the comics code, as well as summoning up simpler linework from the heyday of prestige format minis like this.

Panels tend towards the simple or uncluttered, but there’s a not insignificant power invested into each one, with the most important panels immediately drawing the eye to punctuate their place in the narrative.

Bellaire is relatively restrained, at least compared to much of her work. It’s a look that, surprising no one, she’s more than able to pull off, but she really comes to life in the dark. Whether that means the scene is illuminated by a sorcerous blast, or merely by the light of the moon, Bellaire’s colors and lighting are top notch.

Though none of them go as far as they could have, Mystik U is a book of definite and distinct strengths. Alisa Kwitney’s history in prose serves her well, crafting a book with a simple plot but thoughtful construction, notable character, and a refreshing tone.

At $5.99 it’s understandable if this isn’t a book you’re willing to pick up and see with, but I think it shows tremendous promise. If you’re a fan of Zatanna, or, better yet, the weird and largely forgotten magical side of the DCU, and a boarding school reboot of some of DC’s most underutilized characters sounds appealing, I’d definitely recommend giving Mystik U a shot.

Mystic U is currently available in shops from DC Comics.