The Many Possible Maestros Of Magical Powers Run Wild

by Hannah Means Shannon

Maybe I over-analyze titles too much, but I always wondered why this comic was called Maestros, plural, and not Maestro, or The Maestro. After reading the first issue, I became aware that we were not just talking about Will, but about his deceased father and his terrible legacy, and kind of left it at that. So, two Maestros. And the idea of inheritance.

As the series went on, I didn’t really think much more about it, especially since Will’s father made plenty of appearances in flashback and we got to know him all too well in his vainglorious pretensions, short temper, and wicked desire for sharp vengeance on those weaker than himself.
And as we rolled into the final issue of this arc of the series, we even got to meet and see the operation of Will’s grandfather, also a Maestro, in action via flashbacks. So three Maestros, further justifying the title.
All that is valid, but for me, there’s now more to it. Having read the final issue of the arc fully, and the last two issues, really, were full of unrolling reveals, any of which felt like they might be a possible ending, I now think mainly about Will when I see the title Maestros.
Not to get too complicated about it, but I think this story is as much about all the versions of Will as Maestro that he could possibly be, as much as it is about saving an entire complex of worlds conjured and established by magic. The magic of the Maestros.

When you step back and talk about protagonists in stories, and what kinds of patterns they follow, what kinds of paths they walk, there are some very recurring “archetypes of situation”, and we’ve all heard of Joseph Campbell’s terms like the “call to adventure” and the “hero’s journey”. But to be more basic, Will’s story is about a major rite of passage that helps shape the next stage of his personality. He comes into power and responsibility, and throughout the series we learn a lot about the person he could be.
He could be brave. He could be heroic. He could be compassionate. He could be petty. He could be a victim. He could be a protector. It’s only in the final issue, however, that we really see some of those possibilities blown up into their full implications. Will could be so much, and though we already kind of like him at this point, despite his trickster-ish weaknesses and pettiness, we want to see him overcome Mardok, now revealed as his half-brother, but also a kind of god of emptiness.
 [**Spoilers for #7 below!]
To do that, he might have to be better than we think he’s been so far, not only in overcoming Mardok, but in finding a way to remake the world(s). How can this guy be capable of all that? By being a Maestro, for real. Not just in play-acting anymore.
And he does. And sure, luck and chance seem to be on his side to some extent, but that doesn’t really take away from his achievements. He was clever when he needed to be. His squirrelly-ness kind of paid off. Rebuilding the world will take all of his good qualities, pushed to their max. So, at this point is he Maestro, singular, at last?
What follows are probably my favorite couple of pages of comics in 2018 so far, and I’ve loved a lot of this year’s comic reads. The last few pages of issue #7 of Maestros are meaningful, valuable, entertaining, and impressive. They are like a thematic core to the whole series laid out plainly, as if a fairly intricate, and certainly very beautiful machine has been built (to the tune of 7 issues of art and writing) to contain something very simple but elegant in itself.
We see Will go from quasi-Maestro of the kind he wants to be, to full-on Maestro of the kind he shouldn’t want to be. Thankfully his mother and Wren are there to wrinkle their noses at the whiff of changes happening and try to smack some sense into him long enough for a little “bad” luck to bring him back down to earth.
It speaks very highly of Steve Skroce’s abilities as a storyteller that he conveys these changes in Will within only a few panels, though the hints are there in a more widespread way. Will becomes autocratic, murderous, ludicrous, and absolutely unchallenged in a very short time. We were so engrossed by Will’s duel with Mardok that we didn’t even consider what would happen when he was finally an unchallenged ruler. The horrible things that might then be possible.
Mardok’s own story, told in flashback, about a boy whose gifts irked his jealous father enough to consign him to the outer darkness of being, and the concept of who he might have been otherwise, stands as a neat counterpoint to Will’s potential corruption. Well, blindingly obvious corruption really. What might Mardok have been? What might Will be?

None of this discussion really conveys the levity, and generally upbeat tone of the comic, which is part of its great charm. The strong undercurrent of absurdity keeps you on your toes to notice details, and make connections in the artwork as well as the conversations, reminding you often that if you’re taking this comic too seriously, you’re probably missing out.
But that’s also why the meaningful aspects of the comic are so palatable and potentially universal. This is the absolute opposite of a comic that a creator might bring into being purely for their own gratification (not that there’s actually anything wrong with that), but rather, it’s an audience-facing work that makes sure that the experience of this story has been loaded with spectacle, relevance, and plenty of pop culture allusions.
But damn it, it’s also about power and what power is and what power does to people. We all know the adage about “absolute power” corrupting “absolutely”. If that were all to the story, Skroce wouldn’t have had much of a comic to build here. We’ve all, unfortunately, witnessed the rise of people into positions of power, seen the changes in them, and seen the misuse of that power. That might even lead us to assume that some degree of compromise is necessary for people to fill those roles. But Skroce’s portrayal of this truism is more “insider”.
We’ve seen how much Will resents, even hates, his late father, with good reason. We’ve seen how and why Mardok should, too. And yet we see Will changing into his father in a few simple steps. We don’t have to understand the magical underpinnings of the creation spell that’s corrupting Will’s mind to get it. It’s like watching a fast-forward of someone’s rise to a place where they can’t really be challenged by anyone else. The magical aspects of the story just enable us to get a focused view of it.
If, in reading those pages, you don’t hear echoes of current politics, the furor of group internet offensives targeting others, and more, it would be very surprising. You’re welcome to read the comic in a simpler way, and Skroce makes sure you can, but we live in an era where power goes to peoples’ heads in more observable, direct, and documentable ways than ever before. Will’s transformation into what he has previously hated springs from a desire to do good run wild, and there’s also plenty to think about in that. I’m looking at you, The Internet.
Maestros #1 was nominated for an Eisner Award this year, and as the “Best of the Year” lists start coming out, as well as other awards nomination lists, I think we can expect to see Maestros well represented. Not only is the series an artistic achievement in excellent visual storytelling, but it can prompt so much speculation that keeps you thinking long after you’ve closed the pages—always a sign of a comic of great stature.
Maestros #1-7 have been released by Image Comics. Expect Maestros Vol. 1 in comic shops on October 31st 2018, and to arrive on Amazon in November 2018.

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