Travelling Man's Blog

Review: Umbral Volume 1 by Travelling Man


Written by Antony Johnston

Art by Christopher Mitten

Colours by John Rauch

Letters by Thomas Mauer

Published by Image



Rascal has the perfect plan; use the eclipse everyone will be paying attention to as a distraction, sneak into the Red Palace, steal the Oculus, be rich. She even has an inside man, the son of the King and Queen.

There is one small problem. The world’s ending. And Rascal seems to be the only person who’s noticed…

I used to say I don’t really get on with epic fantasy. I don’t anymore, because in the space of a year three things have turned me round on it; the novels of Patrick Rothfuss, the increasingly impossible to not get caught up in Game of Thrones and this comic. All three have the same basic principle of an extremely detailed, richly configured world but of the three? This one is far and away the most accessible.

That’s largely because this is the most light on its feet fantasy story you’ll read this year. Johnston’s always had great comic timing and that’s definitely on show here. Rascal moves fast, talks faster and reacts exactly how you would in her situation; panic, swearing, occasional punches. She’s an instantly likable lead and, coupled with the series’ chilling bad guy, the Umbrith, that means you’re invested in the book by about page 3.

Plus Johnston pulls zero punches. This is a nasty book where bad things happen and he never short changes the emotional consequences of that. By the end of this volume Rascal has collected a ragtag group of allies and absolutely none of them are safe. The creeping paranoia of the book, the fact that the bad guys have already won, is terrifying and marks this out as a very different kind of fantasy. There are elements of conspiracy thrillers to it, a light seasoning of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and some wonderful, subtle world building.

Mitten’s side of things is just as great. This is a pleasingly lived in world, combining the scale and spectacle the genre demands with some really nice, earthy touches. The Endless Ladders are a particular favourite and the world itself is configured a little like UK fantasy fiction wrapped around a gooey European centre. The sense of scale and cold history is very European and Mitten gives every one of those moments room to breathe. Rauch’s colour scheme really helps here in particular, subtly keying you in to this being a different world but never drowning the details. Mauer’s letters are clean and precise and there’s a really smart trick used here that I’ll be really interested to see play out as the book goes on.

Start to finish this is the most fun fantasy I’ve read this year. Brutal, smart and frantic it hits the ground running and steals your purse as it runs by. Go chase it.

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

[…] mentions also go to Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet, Captain Marvel, Archer & Armstrong, Zero, Umbral and The Fuse. All of them bear out just how clever, innovative and fun a year this was for comics. […]

Pingback by The Lists: Comics of 2014 | The Man of Words

[…] the process behind it. Johnston’s writer’s notes on the criminally overlooked and much missed Umbral are a great example of this. DeConnick’s essay here is […]

Pingback by Review: Bitch Planet Issue 4 | Travelling Man's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: