I initially reviewed Maestros as a striking and unusual book that was bound to take comics by storm, and was reassured when issue #1 sold out and interest has continued to follow the book, which is both written and drawn by Steve Skroce, with colors by Dave Stewart, and letters by Fonographics. I don’t think that enthusiasm for the book will wane, particularly since it continues to get stranger and more entertaining with every page, but as a series progresses, it’s important to keep talking about it, rather than letting a sea of new #1 issues take over all the relevant discussion in comics.
And Maestros is very worthy to continue to be part of that discussion. William Little is the hybrid offspring of an earth woman and an all-powerful magician ruler of a realm in another dimension. Brought in on that secret as a pre-teen, he was trained in magic schools as part of his father’s large family, but things didn’t go too well. His tendency to fly in the face of authority, fairly tempered by an awareness of his own shortcomings, eventually led to his banishment back to earth where he continued to perform petty magic for cash.
Until the assassination of the great Maestro, his father, along with his entire family, led to William inheriting both the throne and the menacing presence of Maestro-killer Mardok, not to mention old enemies from his youth, like the detested Elvin being Rygol.
William is by and large amoral, shifting in his loyalties and sympathies, but his assholery is mitigated by the general menace of a foe in Mardok who pretty much represents all null, void, and death. Any living, breathing, albeit arrogant human being seems like a winner by comparison to Mardok’s knarly nails and worm-infested flesh. Rygol is a more classic villain, whose pretentions and preening have some truth to them, particularly in his commentary on the bad rule of the previous Maestro. Nevertheless his “burn it all down” approach is too extreme, again making William seem like a worthy protagonist by comparison.
In this issue, the focus of the story falls on a magic book, “The Book of Remaking”, and magic books are no stranger to fantasy stories, but the power with which this book is invested is enough to make the most jaded reader shudder a little. The power of the book is deftly suggested by Skroce in both writing and art, both by what he reveals and what he leaves to the imagination. With this book, you can “create universes” and place yourself, god-like in the center of your creations. This hits on one of the major themes of Maestros: the existence of too much power. Way, way, too much power and the question of what to do with it.
Skroce doesn’t wait long to bring us an issue full of unparalleled destruction, ripping the magical city of Zainon apart, and leaving piles of corpses for William to consider. But it’s the way emotions and relationships twist apart in the story, making life and connection feel like thin tissues prone to eradication, which will reach you the most as a reader. At the end of the previous issue we met Wren, someone for whom William had a strong affection, but she seemed to betray him in quest of the book.
In this issue, we learn a lot more about what actually happened and why Wren was seeking the book, and then through flashbacks we learn more about her own feelings, personality, and compromised loyalties. It’s bright, harsh, and fleeting insight into the lives of beings in this city. It makes you wonder whether Mardok’s “release” into darkness and null isn’t a way to quiet some of this suffering and bloodshed caused by dynastic fighting. And that’s no doubt a question that’s supposed to remain in your mind. If life is brief and ridiculous, what’s the point?
If life under a Maestro is a beautiful but often cruel joke, then is null and void somehow more true and direct? Nevertheless the sheer gorgeousness of Skroce’s artwork, constantly assuming more detail and constantly in motion, will blind you with its gold hued opulence, courtesy of the great Dave Stewart, as well as layers of references and jokes. And convince you that such beauty cannot be for nothing—there must be some better way to organize and direct it.
In this issue, William puts on an outfit belonging to the former Maestro, and though it’s short-lived, he strides into the conflicts he’s facing like a gold-foiled religious icon out of a holy war. It feels like there’s an interesting tension between the opulence and beauty of the colors, costumes, line work, and architecture of the city and its citizens, and the off-hand, undermining, earthiness of, not only William, but of the history and unpredictable demise of the people who live there. It’s all beautiful, but fleeting and fragile.
When we are treated to a brief history of these realms, we understand that they were created by magic, and so perhaps that’s part of the gauzy quality and the perpetual threat to stability we encounter. The fact that William could be the grand ruler of a land of extreme splendor—or of nothing more than a shredded idea—focuses the narrative in even more tightly on him. His every whim, his every decision, could make all the difference.
And while the playing field may seem like it’s not level—Mardok’s power as commanded by Rygol seems fairly limitless—there are tricks and twists that keep certainty at bay. There are magical ways of healing, and of resurrecting, though those, too, have limitations. We’ve already seen William put back together a few times, making gore and maiming a little more amusing than their brutal details might suggest.
In any other story, William might be a Loki-like figure, a trickster, a huckster, a confidence man, who through faults of unfortunate birth has been cast onto the road of life to skip through communities and outrun the repercussions of his ruses. In this story, a city may die in the hands of a trickster—or, given the fact that tricksters essentially built this place—it may be resurrected somehow, somewhen.
Then it becomes a question of just how good a trickster William can be. Can he truly be a Maestro of tricks? Or is he just a pale imitation of his parentage? Do we believe in him that far? Skroce has done a marvelous job of making you want to believe in William despite his personality so fractured it’s seemingly built out of flaws. Maybe William can fake it till he makes it.
Issue #3 puts everything on the table. We anxiously await issue #4 which is bound to throw all our expectations up into the air once more.
Maestros #3 is currently out from Image Comics.