Well, it’s a pretty generic title that has probably been used in dozens of published works, but you know the old adage: you shouldn’t judge a book by [the title on] its cover. Of course, just because you shouldn’t do it doesn’t necessarily mean you’d be incorrect.
Written by Robert Place Napton
Illustrated by Zid
Simon Ambrose is a brilliant young professor at MIT. Always somewhat out of sync with the rest of the world, Simon is a man of science and does not put much stock in faith. When he discovers that he is the bastard son of the world’s greatest wizard Merlin, he is forced to put his skepticism aside and embrace a world of magic and the mayhem it embodies.
Science and magic collide in this introductory priced first issue! For $1, you can’t afford to miss this next step in a battle that has been waged for ages!
If I could pick a word to sum up the premise of “Son of Merlin,” it would probably be “plain.” First of all, we are dealing with Merlin, a character who has been reinterpreted countless times. Naturally, that means we find out within this first issue that Morgan le Fay is the antagonist of choice, and a passing reference is made to the Lady of the Lake. As of yet, there has been no mention of Arthur or the Knights of the Round Table, so Robert Place Napton gets points for at least holding off for now on that count. The other “big idea” at play here is the intersection of magic and science; what place do conjurers have in a world of nuclear physicists not unlike our own? This, too, is nothing particularly novel — the phrase that “magic is only science we can’t understand” has become a staple of most modern fantasy. Sometimes, though, to make something “new,” one merely needs to combine two otherwise common concepts in a way that causes them to bring out fresh aspects of the other. In this regard, Napton is on the right track — the Merlin mythos can certainly be used as a tool to examine the border between science fiction and fantasy (though I’m not sure if this issue is a good indication that it will succeed in accomplishing this).
There is, of course, nothing wrong for reinterpreting classic characters or revisiting genre topics. Rather, the main problem with this first issue is how dreadfully tropic it is. We have everything you’d expect from a fantasy story set in a world slightly resembling our own: a protagonist who is unaware of the “true” nature of things, an unknown connection to a very powerful figure, a mysterious yet alluring figure beckoning the protagonist to enter the “real” world, and the refusal of the call. We even have the incredibly tired “Now do you believe me!” moment that has been particularly over-done in serialized media such as ongoing comics. Again, this is not necessarily bad in and of itself, as tropes have come about because they work, but between this and the above, you have a kind of either/or situation: either you try to tackle something a bit more unique while using common plot devices and character types to make the reader more comfortable, or you do something different with genres and concepts that have become stale (or, if you really crazy, you do something that is completely new, if such a concept exists). If you do both at the same time, you end up with a story that, despite doing something slightly different, reads like something we’ve read a billion times before. Add on the pretty heavy-handed dialogue in the opening scene — though it’s much better in the latter half — and the rather bland characterization, and you have a comic that just isn’t special.
As static art, Zid’s work is rather impressive. His figure drawing is rather well proportioned, and his sense of perspective is firmly grounded in reality. In terms of pure line work, Zid’s draftsmanship is precise, and few pages early in the issue are ornately decorated in their layout. However, this isn’t a static medium. The panel-to-panel motion in this comic is, quite frankly, atrocious. Even though his line work is, in the sense of still life, refined and clear, the poor visual storytelling completely undoes all the good caused by Zid’s technical precision. It’s a combination of factors: on the one hand, his figures, as finely sculpted as the are, are completely without life, save for in a handful of effective panels; on the other, his general sense of storytelling leaves much to be desired. The comic reads not as a whole comic, but as a series of separate images placed next together. Sure, that’s a comic by definition, but not in execution. Think of the cheaply made comic tie-ins to animated movies that are simply frames from the film placed in sequential order; sure, it’s an exaggeration, and “Son of Merlin” certainly looks significantly better, but it still has similar failings. That the previously mentioned layouts do more to hinder the pages’ readability than to enhance further compounds this problem.
I said before that If I could pick a word to sum up the premise of “Son of Merlin,” it would probably be “plain.” Well, if I could use a phrase instead, I would call it “by the books.” It’s not that it is bad — for its faults, the first issue still manages to be pretty fun, and while Zid’s artwork may not read well (at all), it still looks nice — it just isn’t interesting. If the premise seems like it may be your kind of thing, there’s no harm in picking it up for its single dollar price tag, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you completely forget to pick up the second issue.
Final Verdict: 4.2 – Well, it’s only a dollar.