Indie Comic Review: Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors – Written by Mike Costa & Jon Armstrong with art by Ryan Browne – $19.99

Ever since I was a kid I have enjoyed magic.  I remember watching Doug Henning on the Muppet Show.  And my grandfather took me to see Harry Blackstone jr do a performance in Los Angeles. While I was a savvy enough kid to realize that this was all an illusion, I was nowhere near clever enough to figure out how it was all done. To this day, nothing delights me more than a well-rehearsed magic trick.

But what if magic was real? What if all those “special powers” could be converted to something “useful” such as making things glow, move, or disappear. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful place? Or would people find ways to manipulate it, horde it, and use it to their advantage? IDW’s Smoke and Mirrors explores just such a place.

Stage magician Terry Ward is thrust into a world where magic – not technology – rules, and forced to use trickery and illusions to survive! But will that prove to be enough when the dangers of the world start compounding – how can a sleight of hand artist compete with users of practical spells?

Smoke and Mirrors turns everything on its head by making magic the technology of this world. There is a rush to develop new spells, new ways to control the magic fields which surround the planet, much the way that large technology firms in our world are locked in a never-ending battle for new ways to control how we access the internet, call our friends, and catch up on our reality tv. In the world of Smoke and Mirrors, magic which cannot be explained and which cannot be controlled is a very scary thing indeed.

Control is the central theme of the book. Most characters do not have control over their lives. The one character who seems to have all the power and control realizes how fragile his hold on that control is when it is threatened. When you get down to it, magic is all about control. It is about a person (the magician) controlling exactly what others (the audience) see and experience. If you control that, you hold the power. If you can’t control it, the illusion fails and the entire trick crumbles.

Terry Ward canot control where he lives. He thought he was booked as a magician on a cruse ship. However he slips through a rift in space and ends up on a parallel world where “real” magic rules the day. Young Ethan Vernon cannot control that his father is dead, his mother is blind, and his life is never going to be the same. He wants more from this life but does not have the power to bring about any real change. If he could just control things, make them the way he wanted, life would be better…or at least not so bad. When Ethan discovers Terry, he realizes that there is another way. There is a way to gain just a little bit of control over his life, a little power. He can learn the strange magic of Terry Ward and earn the respect and admiration of his classmates.

Things, of course, go pear-shaped as the Steve Jobs-like figure realizes that there is potential for everything he has worked for to unravel if there is an alternate magic loose in the world. It was here that the story got a bit clunky. The bad guy basically becomes over the top bad because, well, no reason is really ever given. It is enough that he is a wizard and is revealed to not be very nice. For the most part it is handled well. The reveals are given in measured doses so that it is not too jarring for the reader. However, it was enough that I found myself scratching my head from time to time, wondering why things played out the way they did. It was the one bump in an otherwise fun book.

The real “trick” of Smoke and Mirrors is that there are actual illusions performed in the book. There are several times where the reader becomes the audience and has an illusion performed “right before your very eyes!” When you think about it, that is pretty amazing. So much of magic relies on sleight of hand and misdirection. To pull off a satisfying illusion on a static page is an impressive feat!

There is much about this book that would be perfect of a middle school aged reader. There is magic, parallel worlds, action, adventure, and some pretty cool illusions which they can puzzle out on their own. Unfortunately there is one thing that is keeping me from recommending that parents and librarians make copies available for kids: the language. There is a moderate amount of swearing in Smoke and Mirrors. Not enough that I would consider it gratuitous or excessive, but enough that most parents (and DEFINITELY school librarians) will be hesitant to have kids read it. There is a well-reasoned explanation for this given by Mike Costa,the writer of the book. It is worth taking a few minutes to read as it is not only interesting and thought provoking, but also serves as a reminder of how people can respectfully disagree without creating a flame war.

Smoke and Mirrors is a fun book with an interesting hook and some great moments. While it gets a bit weak in the third act, there is so much to enjoy that all is forgiven. It is not often that you see something new in comics, but Smoke and Mirrors manages to pull off believable magic in its pages, and that is well worth the price of admission!

Smoke and Mirrors is available now. Its no trick, click here for a great deal on Smoke & Mirrors.

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