Mandala by Stuart Moore (script) and Bruce Zick (art)
Mandala is the story of Michael Patrick Murphy who has the potential to be a mythic hero, Morningstar, savior of all mankind, but often he is just Michael, a confused man, or even worse, he turns into his lower, demonic self. Borrowing a page from Michael Moorcock, author Stuart Moore has Morningstar drift from one reality to another, trying in each new plane of existence to fight the serpents and evil gods who control all humans in a post-apocalyptic world. He fights alongside the rest of “The Thirteen,” an organization made up of men and women similar to Michael Morningstar: They all have a human side and must learn to “wake up” their higher selves to unite and defeat serpents who are led by the evil Natasmia.
Moore borrows the time-traveling part of the plot from the Hawkman and Hawkgirl storyline at DC: Hawkman and Hawkgirl keep struggling to find each other again and again, but every time they do, they die and are reborn to seek each other out again — star-crossed lovers doomed by their rebirth-induced amnesia. Morningstar has his female counterpart in Mary Lozen Many Colors, or Raven. Raven’s Grandfather acts as spiritual guide for Michael and the rest of “The Thirteen.” He teaches Michael about the Empyrean and transformation, part of which has to be Michael’s willingness to be the “hanged man,” a familiar image seen in most Tarot decks.
Fans of Hellboy, pay attention: Mandala by Stuart Moore and Bruce Zick is a book you’ll want to have, particularly if you enjoy the art of Hellboy. Bruce Zick’s art is not an imitation of Hellboy; it’s unique, but it is the same type. I love the art in Hellboy and love the art in Mandala. The colors in this volume are incredible as well. On the art alone, I recommend the book.
However, there is one major problem with Mandala: The dialogue seriously undercuts the art, the interesting plot, and the writing in the narrative panels. Basically, the characters’ speech just doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t have the sublime, grand feel of the rest of the story. I think this lightness in the dialogue’s tone is intentional, much the same way Hellboy’s constant use of the word “Crap” creates a contrast to the seriousness of the situations he is in. When Hellboy says “Oh Crap” while attacking a fire-breathing dragon, he says it as if he just dropped a book or is upset about something minor. “Oh Crap” is a nice bit of understatement in those situations. Most of the time. Every now and then it gets overused. So I’m going to take a guess that Stuart Moore was trying to create an intentional contrast between the serious tone of the plot and light tone in the speech of the characters. It just didn’t work for me — the art was so beautiful and the plot so wonderfully mythic that I wanted to love this book. But, in the end, the dialogue just killed it for me.
I must give one of the most mixed reviews of a book I’ve ever given: It’s sort of like a Philip K. Dick novel in that the ideas are wonderful but the writing style is extremely distracting. I read this as a digital review copy (which have built-in expiration dates), but I almost want to buy a hard copy of the book to flip through on occasion just to look at the art. I like the art that much. But I don’t think I could read it again. It’s a real shame since Mandala could otherwise reach the same readership as Hellboy AND be just as successful. I think the art is so good that the publisher, writer, and artist and an additional writer should take the time with this book to rewrite all the dialogue (and some of the narrative). A second, heavily revised edition could be a great work of sequential art.