Review - The Mantle #1

"If this is the Mantle, we're doomed."

Every superhero needs an origin story. Something to engender sympathy on the part of the reader. A tale that showcases that hero's new powers and the direction they plan to go with them. Not every superhero gets life they think they deserve though, such as Robbie in The Mantle #1 from Image Comics. The issue is written/lettered by Ed Brisson, illustrated by Brian Level and colored by Jordan Boyd.

Robbie never asked for any of this. While drunkenly walking home from a punk show, he's hit with lightning and wakes to find that he's been chosen as the new host for The Mantle, a power set of unimaginable scope. Despite his lack of interest, he's forced into action. The Plague, a being who has spent 50 years killing every previous host of The Mantle, is already coming for him.

The Mantle #1 is a superhero book that essentially wears that badge pretty openly on its sleeve. Brisson doesn't shy away from making the first issue feel like an origin story--which it is--even if the origin is slightly unconventional. In fact, Brisson relies on the tried and true origin story of a character being infused by powers and the latest in a line of hand-picked defenders to poke fun at it. The majority of the issue is Robbie coming to terms with his new powers, only for Brisson to throw a pretty massive (and hilarious) swerve at the end that basically undercuts the perceived importance of a character's origin story. Much of his dialogue reads in a way that presents the origin and explains Robbie's new powers and role, yet it still manages to feel pretty fast-moving and doesn't get bogged down in expository.

Artistically, The Mantle #1 sports a look and feel akin to a superhero book. Level's characters look and feel relatively normal, which is interesting considering that just about everyone in the first issue has superhuman capabilities. Character facial expressions are generally appropriate for the sentiment at hand, but there are a few instances where the physiology looks a little distorted. There's a pretty epic battle towards the end where Robbie is coming to grips with his power that Level illustrates in a way that feels like a build-up, which is exactly what is is in the end. Otherwise, the characters look pretty standard for a first issue. Boyd's colors trend darker, save for a pretty vibrant page where the powers are being infused into Robbie.

The Mantle #1 is a superhero story that's in on the joke. While most of the first issue reads like a template for introducing the reader to a new hero, the final page is a pretty fantastic swerve that proves the reader doesn't know as much as they think they do. Brisson's approach is definitely a breath of fresh air, but there are concerns that opening the series with his gambit will be the high point. Level's illustrations are sufficient for conveying the action, even if it feels a little emotionless at times (which may play into the superhero origin as a joke narrative). The Mantle #1 ends with a pretty satisfying conclusion that rewards the reader for what started to seem like just another superhero book, but whether or not the series can continue that momentum remains to be seen.

The Mantle #1 is in stores now.