Mysterius the Unfathomable

This thoroughly modern take on the practice of magic combines chicanery, humor, and wicked observation to tell the story of a con man sorcerer. Even though he’s the real thing when it comes to the unknown world, he’s also a jerk.

Mysterius cover
Mysterius
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Mysterius is jaded and fundamentally unhappy. In today’s world, no one believes the alternate worlds he can show them, and they think it’s all a scam. Much of his life is — he enchants waiters to see scraps of paper as money, for example, instead of paying for meals — but when it comes to the big things, he’s showing the truth, which is quite often very unpleasant. No one’s made happy by his magic, let alone him. Well, except the reader, because his excursions are very funny, pointed, and imaginative, with revelations about human nature behind them.

Mysterius has just found a new assistant, Ella renamed Delfi, who’s shanghaied into helping him after he gets her fired. Having the right associate helps him, you see — his magic is stronger, his luck is better — so it doesn’t matter how much he disrupts her life. Even though it’s all about him, he’s not a very good protagonist, and he seems uncomfortable having too much focus on him; it’s rather like how many of us would fail if we were expected to be the hero of a story.

Delfi is the best kind of New Yorker. She has her own quirks, like not driving, but her willingness to accept what’s happening by its own rules helps her survive the odd journeys through hellish other dimensions or a crazed sorcerer trying to burn them alive. And her unflappable perspective makes her a heroine to root for.

I enjoyed this miniseries in single issues, but reading this story all under one cover made me realize just how many connecting threads I’d overlooked the first time through. After a seance for a rich, spoiled playboy and trying to help a cursed businessman whose many sex partners’ names are appearing on his skin, there’s also a visit to a Seussian dimension with a scary undertone. There are also some ticked-off witches, a celebrity escape artist, a wannabe Anton LaVey, and it all comes together at “Blazing Man”, where the clueless throw off their morals and sense to have an orgy in the desert.

The bit about the nonsense rhymes in children’s books being cover for casting spells to summon demons is one of my favorite concepts in the book. It’s one of those ideas that seem so right after someone else has thought of it. The level of imagination here, twisting familiar elements in clever ways, rivals Grant Morrison’s comic work.

The dialogue demonstrates how much writer Jeff Parker relishes wordplay and mood … oh, I can’t describe it. In light of the characterization he creates through voice, I don’t have the right words. And Tom Fowler’s art is the perfect match, grimy and full of personality. He captures a New York brownstone, a fantasy land gone murderous, and the tawdry faux-hippiness of a desert festival all with equal skill and detail. Everyone’s got their own personality and attitude and appearance that reflects them. The caricature-like exaggeration fits together the everyday (Delfi) with the fantastic (most everything else).

New to this collection is a three-page text story about an opera singer’s disappearance, which didn’t do as much for me because it wasn’t illustrated. It’s the combination of character, dialogue, and image that creates this skewed, just-next-door world. If you find Dr. Strange intriguing but pretentious, then this is the magical journey you should experience. Fowler and Parker have a lot to say about belief, credibility, and the way the world works. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

Update: Here’s another good review of the book by Scott Cederlund. I especially liked this point:

… filled with many characters and a number of different plots that, at first, may seem unnecessary and confusing, but writer Jeff Parker has a clear purpose for each and every one of them. There’s barely a line of dialogue or a walk-on character in this book that doesn’t serve some higher purpose. Parker makes sure that nothing and no one are wasted in his story.


10 Responses to “Mysterius the Unfathomable”

  1. Joshua Macy Says:

    This is one of only two comics that my wife enjoys. (The other is Locke & Key.) We’re looking forward to the trade.

  2. Johanna Says:

    It’s out today at your local comic shop!

  3. Kat Kan Says:

    This is a GREAT story, and one I hope more people will read. I just love Delfi!

  4. Johanna Says:

    I hope that there’s another story with these characters in the works, because I would also like to see more of Delfi.

  5. Eric Gimlin Says:

    I bought a copy of this from Jeff Parker at ECCC last weekend. A fun book that really got lost in the shuffle, it deserves to do better in the Trade. I know I was guilty of tradewaiting, myself…

  6. Johanna Says:

    Jealous you got to see him at ECCC! That’s a great con, I wish I could have gone this year.

  7. Agents of Atlas » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] It’s written by Jeff Parker, whose work — The Interman, X-Men: First Class, Mysterius, Underground — I’ve been enjoying for years. And it’s a quirky superhero team, my [...]

  8. Summer Smartass Reading List | Marvel Smart Ass Says:

    [...] Mysterius the Unfathomable by Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler [...]

  9. #90 Mysterius The Unfathomable by Jeff Parker & Tom Fowler « a book a day till i can stay Says:

    [...] brings us to Mysterius The Unfathomable. Even had I not known of Parker’s work, I would have had to snap this book off the shelves due to [...]

  10. 52 Responses to the DC Reboot | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources Says:

    [...] 39) Y’know… I don’t want to be too snarky – There were a bunch of Wildstorm books that I like. Some of them weren’t even written by Alan Moore. These were, primarily, the books that didn’t FEEL like Wildstorm books like WELCOME TO TRANQUILTY and MISTER MAJESTIC. (And I did a little dance when the Authority beat “God.” I’m not completely heartless.) But by the end I’d felt that the Wildstorm Universe had said all it had to say, and I was hoping it would turn into a home for creator-owned genre projects that didn’t fit in at Vertigo, like the super-spiffy Mysterius the Unfathomable.) [...]

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