Mystik U Book One
Writer: Alisa Kwitney
Artist: Mike Norton
Publisher: DC Comics
In scope and form, if not tone, Mystik U is the successor to Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love by Sarah Vaughn and Lan Medina: a mini-series of three double-sized issues, released bimonthly. But where Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love was gothic romance, Mystik U is a YA adventure story that carefully balances some of DC’s lesser-known magic practitioners with more recognizable names and faces (and even a few new ones). Writer Alisa Kwitney leans into her strengths, relying on her extensive experience creating funny romances—and working with Vertigo characters on Sandman spin-off books—to flesh out the world of Mystik U. Though it is a little strange to see Zatanna as a student being taught by characters she’s lead in other continuities, Kwitney gives her protagonist a sharp sense of humor and the kind of relatable uncertainty that comes with being young and a bit lost.
This first issue also immediately establishes a slew of female friendships, which are often sorely lacking in cape-and-cowl comics (particularly in team books starring Zatanna, who is most often played against characters like Constantine and Batman). The students, appearing to mostly be in their teens or early 20s, are appropriately broody, sarcastic and sex-crazed, depending on the situation and the character, and Kwitney does a great job of making it clear that these are not-quite-children play-acting at being adults. For those readers who survived move-in day and freshman orientation at a large university, the whole ordeal will feel familiar in just how melodramatic it becomes.
Mike Norton might not be the first artist to come to mind for the book described above. His work on The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong and his web-comic Battlepug falls closer to traditional superhero comic art than something like Gotham Academy or Giant Days, comics focused on young people away from traditional action settings. Regardless, Norton is an asset to Mystik U, lending an air of reality that helps ground an otherwise heady book. With a group of powerful and intelligent young people around, not to mention teachers like Mr. E and Frankenstein, conversations about ethics and the danger of using powers come up frequently. And while that will appeal to many readers, the issue is also very text-heavy, and Norton’s clean, dynamic art helps to ensure that readers don’t burn out on all that dialog, particularly in a book twice as long as the average monthly title. An admonishment from Madame Xanadu for the students to use “not so many words, please…” feels particularly ironic in context.
Norton packs a lot of detail into small panels, and his skill with body language and backgrounds comes in handy in this first issue, establishing the school itself and the residents who populate it. There’s a bit of a problem with aged-up teenagers and some same-face syndrome in Mystik U, mostly with the female students, but Jordie Bellaire’s colors help to ameliorate that trend. It is interesting to see Norton’s work with more textured and layered colors, as well as subdued palettes; much of his previous work has been bright and bold. Bellaire adds a depth and subtlety, particularly to skin, which helps distinguish characters like Xanadu and Zatanna, whose linework is mainly differentiated via clothes and makeup.
It’s hard to pinpoint the ideal audience for Mystik U. People who loved Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love should definitely check it out. It’s also a great book for fans of Gotham Academy as well as Ming Doyle, James Tynion IV and Riley Rossmo’s run on Constantine. There are so many wonderful references to classic Vertigo stories that readers who love The Books of Magic or House of Mystery will likely want to dip in, too. The updates that have been made to characters like Doctor Occult constitute organic, necessary growth instead of a tacked-on change, and fans of DC’s magical side will likely want to enroll in Mystik U.