Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Umbral, Volume 1 Review (Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten)


Umbral Volume 1 is the worst comic I’ve read since Wasteland Book 1 which was also created by writer Antony Johnston and artist Christopher Mitten, a detail I found out afterwards! 

Umbral is set in fantasyland where a kingdom is preparing for some kind of ceremony for their king or something that coincides with an eclipse. A rascally (monetarily) poor girl called Rascal is running around the palace because she’s somehow friends with the prince - then shadowy creatures, the Umbral of the title, attack because they’ve got a glowy ball of magic (I think) called the Oculus which they need for something (nothing good probably ‘cos they’re “evil”). Rascal goes on the run while the Umbral chase her the entire book. 

To say that Umbral is a crap comic is an insult to the New 52 - Savage Hawkman was better than this! Actually no, that’s too harsh, nothing has yet surpassed Savage Hawkman for sheer awfulness - I literally appreciate life more knowing that I’m not reading Savage Hawkman; but still, Umbral is pretty bad. 

The story is so shallow and uninvolving while none of the characters rise above the lightest and least memorable of portrayals, and absolutely no aspect of the comic engaged me in any way. I couldn’t care less for Rascal, let alone give a damn about some weird kingdom and some flat “bad” shadow monsters who want to tear it down. Go for it! Destroy it all! Who the hell cares? Based on his writing, certainly not Antony Johnston!

I didn’t like Christopher Mitten’s art in Wasteland and still don’t like it here even if he’s added colour to it - the art is so poorly put together throughout. Like in one scene where Rascal is talking to the head of the Thieves’ Guild who’s a bearded man - the next page is a close up of a shadow monster and she runs, manages to pull out a mountain climber’s pick out of nowhere (and which we never see again) to hook onto an outcropping and escape. What annoyed me was that there was no scene in between to indicate that the bearded man had transformed into the shadow monster - I thought the two were separate, ie. bearded man and Rascal in room, shadow monster appears, Rascal escapes and bearded man probably dies in the room. But the bearded man WAS the shadow monster, a fact you don’t realise until a couple pages later. AWFUL sequential art, Mitten. And how original were the shadow monsters’ character designs? They all look like Venom from Spider-Man! 

Or how about a few pages afterwards when Rascal meets another bearded man who looks identical to the previous bearded man but is actually someone completely different?! The character models should be at least a bit different or if every male character above the age of 18 is going to have a massive beard, the artist needs to find a way to make them distinct from one another! 

Johnston has worked with Mitten before and should know the artist’s limitations by now, but instead writes a few scenes set in water with the water bursts consequently looking like dust clouds! There’s a reason why their last series was set in a desert wasteland - Mitten cannot draw convincing water scenes. He does draw cloaks well though, and there are plenty of those. 

Umbral is just terrible. It’s the dullest fantasy comic I’ve ever read and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone - in fact, make a mental note of this creative team like I have to avoid their work in future!

Umbral Volume 1

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