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A review a day: Mysterius the Unfathomable

I didn’t get this when it came out in pamphlet form, but I picked it up in the trade paperback format that all the kids are raving about. So let’s see what’s what with this sucker!

That's a clever cover design, I must say

Mysterius the Unfathomable is a six-issue mini-series written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Tom Fowler, colored by Dave McCaig, and lettered by Saida Temofonte. It’s one of them there Wildstorm comics and has a price tag of $17.99 on it.

I read some mixed reviews about this when it was coming out, but that was for some of the early issues. I never saw anything assessing the entire mini-series, but I figured that Jeff Parker is a good writer, the art looked good, so why wouldn’t I get this? And let me tell you, it’s pretty darned good. I mean, it won’t change your religion or anything, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

Mysterius is a magician, obviously, in a world where some people who call themselves magicians actually are, while the others are charlatans. That makes it easy for Mysterius, who actually has some power, to insinuate himself into places where people don’t take him seriously and get to the bottom of strange events. He’s kind of a psychic detective, and at the beginning of the book, he gets a new assistant – she’s a reporter for a tabloid, but Mysterius arranges for her to lose that job so she can work for him. Her name is Ella, but Mysterius insists on calling her Delfi, as that’s what all his assistants are called (and he’s had quite a few). They meet at a séance for Vic Chesnea, a rich Manhattanite, who wants to get in touch with his dead mother. Meanwhile, at the very beginning of the book, Delfi meets with a potential client and tells the story of the séance in flashback. Chesnea’s séance and Gerry Ormond’s problem eventually intersect, of course, as Parker weaves the two threads together nicely until he comes to the big finale. There’s a dude who wants to become a god, of course, and he must be stopped!!!!

Reading this as a whole, it becomes obvious that Parker is setting things up for the long term. He switches back and forth between Chesnea’s and Ormond’s problems, doing a nice job keeping them both cooking. Ormond is cursed, and Mysterius figures out why and even who did it, but he gets no further because Chesnea’s problem distracts him. Mysterius took Chesnea into the spirit realm with him, and while he was there, something happened that trapped Chesnea there for a time. When he gets back, he’s a bit of a basket case … plus he’s obsessed with the books of a certain Emil Gaust, who’s a Dr. Seuss stand-in. Gaust is apparently placing summoning spells in his books, in the guise of nonsense rhymes, and he lives in a strange realm with all his demons around him. He’s sending demons to kill Chesnea, but Mysterius and Delfi manage to get to his realm and close it off. Of course, we know Gaust’s realm is going to be important somehow down the road, and it is. But I won’t say how!

Parker does a fine job keeping all the threads from spinning out of control. This is a tightly plotted book, and it’s nice to have it all in front of you in one place while you’re reading. Delfi narrates the story, and she’s our POV character, which is fairly important as Mysterius is pretty much a tool. He cheats people, he’s rude, and he’s cowardly. Parker develops their relationship very well, and Mysterius changes as the book moves along, but so too does Ella. It’s not too, too deep because there’s so much plot to get to, but Parker has a nice flair for making his characters interact well with each other and a good ear for dialogue, so their revelations don’t feel forced. This is a funny comic, too, even with all the nasty stuff that’s going on. Mysterius is funny because he’s so depraved, but Parker puts in some nice touches, beginning with Emil Gaust himself, that make this fun to read even as demons are trying to strangle our principals. Later, when Mysterius and Delfi (and a bunch of other people) are going to be sacrificed at a Burning Man ceremony, Parker does a good job poking fun at those who participate in Burning Man ceremonies without being too mean about it. This has a good plot, but Parker’s deft touch with the characters makes it a good read.

I know I’ve seen Fowler’s art before, but I can’t remember where. It’s brilliant, actually, so I’ll be looking for it now more than before. He gives Mysterius a big gut, which is appropriate considering his long life of indolence, and the other character designs are well done – Delfi, for instance, isn’t gorgeous but she isn’t ugly. She just looks like a normal person (a bit cartoony, because that’s Fowler’s style, but still a normal person). Fowler immerses us in this comic, from the mundane world to Emil Gaust’s land, which is a riot of craziness and color, a Seussian world turned evil just enough to be unsettling. Fowler’s horrors are horrific, but he never lets them overwhelm the charming aspects of the art, and McCaig’s colors – again, especially in the Gaust sections – are stunning. Fowler’s characters are designed so well that when Delfi finally snaps and tells Mysterius what kind of man he is, both her condemnation and his reaction to it are very powerful. This is a breathtaking book just to look at, even if you skip Parker’s words (but why would you do that?).

This sold poorly when it showed up in single issue form, and part of the problem is that it’s from Wildstorm. I’m not exactly sure what the point of Wildstorm is anymore except to keep Jim Lee’s superheroes from the Image days going, but they continue to publish mini-series like this (and Sparta U. S. A. and Garrison, both of which I’m buying in single issues for no discernible reason) that seem tailor-made for trade-waiting – these are completely self-contained, they don’t tie in with any other comic, and they tell a complete story in one trade. I’m not sure why something like this wasn’t through Vertigo – there’s a bit of swearing that is grawlixed for delicate ears, and there’s quite a bit of nudity that is blocked by strategically placed arms and other impediments. It doesn’t seem to have any reason to come from Wildstorm, where you can’t curse and show naked bodies, rather than Vertigo, where you can. Some of the naked bodies are men and even Vertigo books often shy away from showing the twig and berries in all their glory, but there’s quite a bit that could be shown if this was a Vertigo book. I can’t imagine its sales figures would have been any worse if it was a Vertigo book. Maybe they would have been. Either way, I can certainly see why people would skip this in single-issue format. Now there’s a trade. Go buy it!

I shouldn’t have been surprised that this was so good, because Parker is a very good writer, but I was – well, a bit. It’s a groovy story with tremendous art, and it’s more complex than you might expect. Give it a look now that it’s in one handy package!

11 Comments

I picked up the trade recently as well, and thought it was brilliant.

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I bought this in single issues, back when I was in the weekly habit, and liked it okay. Fowler’s cartooning takes some getting used to, but once you get into the vibe, it is excellent work. Parker story was clever. Reading it episodically, the threads got a bit lost in one another. I need to revisit it in one sitting, but I think I would second your recommendation for reading it that way.

Really like the design of the trade cover (that is what you posted up there, right?). It’s interesting that it has that “Mysterious Mysteries” logo – I wonder if trade sales are strong enough to justify future outings? I’m leery of another John Constantine/Felix Castor/Harry Dresden “magical bastard” lead, but Parker set up a different enough universe here that I would check out further explorations of it.

On the “wtf Wildstorm?” topic, I sort of think of them as a mini-Image. They seem to be 60% keeping the Authority in print, 40% self-contained creator owned stuff. And the latter are often quite good (I liked this and North 40 quite a bit, off the top of my head) – so if they can just figure out how to market them in order to keep publishing them, I’m cool with it.

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I’ve been curious about this for a while and, like yourself, I could not find reviews of the whole mini. I’m really glad you reviewed it because now it’s on my list!

Whatsup Greg, love your reviews and enjoy reading them week to week.Good stuff.Agree with all you said about this Mini Series.I too was on the look out for Fowler’s other work after reading this awhile back. I couldn’t find too much but one off the top of my head that was really enjoyable was a one-off story written by Wilingham in Legends of the Dark Knight #168.A clever story with a nice touch of dark humor.

“They seem to be 60% keeping the Authority in print, 40% self-contained creator owned stuff.”

They publish a lot of video game tie-in stuff, so you may need to adjust your maths a bit. It is a weird imprint these days. It’s hard to believe they were publishing some really cutting edge superhero stuff 10 years ago. That said, I’ll take more Jeff Parker where I can get it, especially on a creator owned joint.

True, true…the maths were a bit of statistical hyperbole, anyway. Perhaps the licensed properties are how they continue to finance the creator-owned stuff? Anyway, like we all said, however it works that we get more Parker, etc…

[…] bit off topic, CSBG also reviews Mysterius the Unfathomable. It was a fun fantasy/horror/comedy miniseries last year, and is now available as a trade […]

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