A while back I reviewed Gutter Magic #0, a collection of short stories written by Rich Douek and drawn by a variety of artists. The book introduced an intriguing mythology, an alternate history of post-war America reshaped by the presence of magic. It was a fascinating idea, filled with quirks and characters that gave it life, and all it was lacking was a concrete story to build it all around. That #0 issue shared the problem I have with many #0 issues, in that it’s not really an issue #1, and so it can’t actually start anything. But I did leave Gutter Magic #0 sold on the concept, and eager to check out the story once it began in earnest.
Thankfully, thinks get moving at a merry pace with Gutter Magic #1. Rich Douek concisely re-introduces the concept and a couple of the key characters introduced in the preview book, and from there we are propelled forward into a larger narrative. Here, our roguish protagonist Cinder and his goblin ally Blacktooth are on the hunt for a wizard that will help them unlock a powerful spell. When that wizard is revealed to be an important historical figure (I won’t reveal who, but will say this won’t be the first comic he’s appeared in recently), it adds whole new wrinkles into this compelling mythology Douek has crafted, and brings up questions about the relationship between science and magic in this steampunk-tinged world.
One of the primary joys of this first issue is seeing how well-realised this world Douek has created is. There are various small scenes or offhand references that hint at a rich, dense mythology, one probably mapped out in far more detail than what we’ll see within the confines of this particular story. These pages are also richly populated with supporting characters beyond our likeable leads, be it friends and foes who show up here or others who remain off-panel while being ominously referred to, already imbuing them with presence before their likely appearance later on in the story. There’s also an interesting element of class warfare worked into the division between the elite master mages in the skyscrapers and the practitioners of “gutter magic” on the streets that feels quite pertinent in the wake of all this 99%/1% economic talk.
I should also mention the classy work of artist Brett Barkley. The #0 issue had a variety of artists, some a better fit than others, but in Barkley it is apparent that Douek has settled on the ideal collaborator. He helps breathe life into Douek’s diverse concepts and characters, and it’s in the little details – most notably the top half of the Empire State Building floating in the air above the bottom half – where Gutter Magic really establishes its own distinctive identity. Perhaps Barkley’s biggest triumph is a complicated double-page spread featuring a chase through a goblin market, where the scenery warps and twists around the page, leading us through the characters’ journey. It’s a sequence that in lesser hands could have gone wrong, but Barkley pulls it off with panache. It helps that Donna Gregory’s bright color pallette helps to keep everything clear and prevents things from becoming too murky.
Gutter Magic always presented a highly promising, original concept. Now, issue #1 fulfils that promises, giving us a brisk, exciting caper brimming with clever ideas and supported by slick visuals. Once again, Rich Douek has impressed me, and left me keen to read what comes next.
Gutter Magic #1 is available to buy at DriveThruComics.