Are you looking for a refreshing dark fantasy comic? Did you really enjoy Wasteland, and would maybe like to read more stuff by Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten? Are you absolutely craving a strong female lead? If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then you should pick up Umbral immediately!
Note: This recap may contain spoilers!
Umbral #1 introduces us to the magical, medieval-inspired land of Fendin. This is a time of both celebration and panic for Fendin, as the first solar eclipse in hundreds of years is about to occur. While the King and Queen are busying themselves for a public appearance, their son, Prince Arthir, is letting a scrappy young thief named Rascal into the palace. Together, Arthir and Rascal plan to steal an artifact known as the Oculus from the royal trophy room while the rest of the kingdom is distracted with the eclipse. To do this, Arthir and Rascal intend to use a joint magical and burglarious effort to break through the magical cage surrounding the Oculus.
Unfortunately, their plan never comes to fruition. Upon entering they trophy room they find that one of the King’s guards lies dead on the floor, and that the Oculus has already been stolen. The duo rushes from the trophy room to find that the King and Queen are also dead, and not by the hands of an ordinary thief or sorcerer. Their invaders are demons unfathomable, known only by the name of the dimension they appear from: the Umbral. The Umbral have obtained the Oculus and are attempting to open a gateway between the Umbral and the world of Fendin. Arthir is killed as he attempts to protect Rascal, leaving her to face the Umbral alone. Not wanting to meet the same fate as Arthir, Rascal snatches the Oculus from the Umbral and leaps through the gateway and into the Umbral.
The Umbral plane is an environment that very much feels like a love letter to Labyrinth and Spawn fans, and it works incredibly well. Jagged lines and monolithic structures make up the landscape, and the rose and purple color scheme give it a sense of both softness and despair. Rascal, still in possession of the Oculus and still very much in danger, must search for a way out of the Umbral, and soon.
So far, I am absolutely loving the direction this comic is taking. Even if you are not a dark fantasy fan, this is worth a read. The art approach and color schemes used throughout Umbral do a fantastic job of contrasting the world of Fendin from the Umbral plane, and the character designs support the fantasy setting without being too over-the-top. This comic also lacks the gratuitous graphic violence present in most dark fantasy comics, and the absence of this is delightful. You never for a moment forget that Umbral is a dark fantasy piece, and it conveys this without the excess grit and gore. Antony and Christopher have stated many times that they wanted to do something unique and different with Umbral, and so far their efforts have produced satisfying results. I am certainly not the only one who thinks so; Umbral #1 has already sold out nationwide and will have to be reprinted!