Mae Volume 1 (Dark Horse)
Writer: Gene Ha
Artist: Gene Ha
Narnia. Wonderland. Oz. These are some of the more well-known dimensions storybook heroines travel to, where they go to partake in great adventures against terrible evils. Comic creator Gene Ha (Top Ten) is building a world like this of his own, but instead of telling us the story of the main female protagonist we enter in the middle of the story and see it through the eyes of her estranged younger sister, Mae.
For most of her life, Mae failed to keep up with her older sister Abbie. It seemed that the older girl was always running away from home and getting into trouble. It’s been seven years now since anyone in their small midwestern town has seen Abbie, and Mae has gone on with her life. Then Abbie shows up suddenly, clad in strange military garb and being pursued by inhuman creatures. It turns out Abbie is a major hero in the land of Mňoukové, a world populated by magical creatures and Eastern Europeans immigrants that accidentally crossed over a century ago. This is a world where science is merely a more unusual form of magic and city-states are at constant war.
The first volume of the series feels very much like a setting up of the pieces. The first couple issues stay in the mundane world and let us get to know Mae and her family and friends, as well as flesh out the strained relationship between her and Abbie. There is also some nice mystery building but nothing that is stretched out for too long. The payoff and journey to Mňoukové happen briskly into the series. Once we’re in the other world, some nice strokes of worldbuilding are delivered, but as I said before nothing is actually resolved, it’s mostly set up for where the series is going to go.
I’ve been a big fan of Ha since reading his work with Alan Moore on Top Ten in 1999. More engrossing than Moore’s writing was the rich, detailed world Ha built in the book. Every panel of Top Ten was crammed with details, easter eggs, and bits of minor but rewarding world building. Mňoukové is beginning to be fleshed out, but I get the sense Ha is taking a much slower burn pace with plans to carefully reveal the corned of this place. That said, the momentum feels a little stifled, and it is hard to get a sense of where the series is going.
I liked that the factions in Mňoukové are much more complicated than your typical storybook fare. There is no obvious Wicked Witch or Queen of Hearts. This is shown through Mae’s sense of being overwhelmed as her sister confidently navigates the hierarchy of nobles, allies, and enemies. The core mission for these two is to rescue their father, and because of this web of characters, I found myself forgetting that’s why they were there. I know that’s simply the conceit to get the sisters together and in Mňoukové, but I hope that future volumes build that sense of momentum and keep going in one direction.