New Graphic Novel is Dark, Urban, Sorcerous
Chris Miskiewicz and Palle Schmidt’s THOMAS ALSOP rocks Manhattan
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
11:00AM, Mon. Jun. 1, 2015
You know there’s a tradition of mixing the mystical arts – magick, with that tell-tale “k” on the end of it – with gritty urban drama, and that the tradition’s especially crowded in comic-books’ four-color realm.
Let’s briefly namecheck Ditko & Lee’s Dr. Strange from back in the day, of course, then toss a crisp salute to the oeuvres of Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis and Neil Gaiman, before assaying a slight genuflection toward that silver-ringed sorcerer Alan Moore who dwells, we're guessing, somewhere in a part of the 14th Chorp dimension that only occasionally overlaps with Northampton, England.
Now let’s imagine you’re trying to come up with a new story along those familiar genre lines, a story featuring magic and mayhem and inner-city grit, perfectly modern in its streetwise and tech-knowledge-y milieu, with drunken brawls in dive bars and blogging celebrities and creative drug abuse … and yet riddled with spells of binding and charms against attack and all manner of supernatural apparatus.
Whatcha gonna do, pal?
Whatcha gonna lay on the world, huh, Professor Creative?
Tell you what: If you’re extremely smart and talented and determined, you might just conjure something as compelling as Thomas Alsop by Chris Miskiewicz and Palle Schmidt.
Got the first trade paperback of the series right here on my desk, surrounded by five empty coffee cups, and the book’s more supercharged than five full coffee cups, a jolt of strong & tasty caffeine to the body of urban fantasy tradition … and to the mind of the lucky reader.
Miskiewicz, the writer of this narrative, introduces us to a protagonist who’s inherited a position (it’s a curse or it’s a blessing) as magickal protector of the island. The “Hand of the Island,” as he – Thomas Alsop – is called. And the island? Ladies and gentlemen, the island of Manhattan.
So, yes, it’s about as urban as one can get in this world and still be on American soil.
Now, this Thomas Alsop’s got to protect Manhattan from any forces of evil that might threaten its well-being, and he can do this because he’s got a certain affinity for the island and an arsenal of spells and more material weapons passed down to him from the previous Alsop generations of Hands. And he’s been video-blogging his exploits – people assume he’s a Criss Angel sort of hocus-pocus raconteur, not an actual sorcerer, dude, don’t be stupid – and has thereby become something of a celebrity. Oh, and he was also in a popular NYC band. And he’s now pretty much shacking up with alcoholism. And, speaking of alcoholism, Alsop’s naturally as much of a sardonic smart-ass as the Marvel Universe character that moviegoers know as Tony Stark.
But here’s the thing: This shit is well-written, is yet another example of the character-based goodness you can find in comics, complex enough to satisfy anyone who doesn’t need a Ulysses-level evocation of personhood to explore the action with. And, refreshingly, Miskiewicz eschews the stale “reluctant hero” trope; Thomas Alsop’s got problems and internal conflicts a-plenty, but he’s passionately embraced his status as Hand – even if his style’s a bit more wild than that of his forebears … and it’s this sincerity, in part, that has the reader rooting for the man as he engages with the plot that’s entangling him in this first trade paperback edition.
And the plot that’s entangling him in the first trade paperback edition? Has to do with a centuries-past attempt by dire forces to control a form of African necromancy, an attempt that, for nicely oblique reasons, has consequences in 2001’s destruction of the World Trade Center.
Yes: They went there.
And we see Alsop’s struggles with his present-day predicament, and we see his ancestors’ struggles in historic times – the story reflects the solid depth of its author’s research – and we see how the whole thing begins to fit frighteningly together before reaching the end of this first volume.
And we’re glad that Miskiewicz met the Danish artist Palle Schmidt at New York’s MOCCA festival in 2011 and, sitting in a bar & tossing back a few libations, pitched him this story. And that Schmidt, whose full-color artwork is appropriately vivid and gritty and moody, agreed to collaborate on the eerie tale that’s sitting, the first major installment of it, in the middle of five empty coffee cups right here on my desk.
Verdict: Grab you one of these, friend. You don’t want to wait for the HBO version, because 1) the story hasn’t even been optioned yet, actually, and 2) it wouldn’t be done any better than Miskiewicz and Schmidt already do it here, in this excellent volume from BOOM! Studios.