Borne on a wave of nostalgia for the “good old days” of comics, I recently went up into my attic to dig through my comic boxes to revisit some old friends. One that immediately leapt to mind was Matt Wagner’s Mage: The Hero Discovered. Originally published in 1984, and since collected in many different versions, Mage tells the story of one Kevin Matchstick, somewhat based on Matt Wagner, a lonely, disaffected young man who gets caught up in events beyond his control. He has to come to grips with the idea of the hero that dwelled inside him and goes on a journey to accept his true power and defeat the enemies that dwell in an ever-present darkness. Luckily, it’s a journey that the Hero doesn’t have to undergo alone, as he’s accompanied by the World Mage, a Ghost (his knight), and a Lady (his bearer of arms).

“How can you go along when you’re in such doubt?” –Sean

As Matt Wagner said in his forward: “In understanding the philosophy of the hero, one must consider the unique mixture of glory, irony, excitement, fate, determination and monumental sadness that has been every tale of heroism from Gilgamesh to John F. Kennedy … the hero is ever driven into a state of action, like it or not. He MUST act and act again. Like an incomplete verb, the hero remains ever unresolved.”

The fundamental journey of the hero, as described by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), contains a number of stages, which includes: 1. A call to adventure, which the hero has to accept or decline; 2. A road of trials, regarding which the hero succeeds or fails; 3. Achieving the goal or “boon”, which often results in important self-knowledge; 4. A return to the ordinary world, again as to which the hero can succeed or fail; 5. Applying the boon, in which what the hero has gained can be used to improve the world.

Heroes share many traits: noble, trustworthy, loyal, just, and good; put another way, the essential story, the monomyth, echoes the story of Christ

“Does this get easier or is it the very difficulty that fires your disbelief?” –Sean

In this familiar pattern (separation as the reluctant hero is taken from the world that he knows; initiation as the hero is tested; and return as the hero comes back as conqueror), though we may see the parallel to the story of Christ, we don’t often think about the beginning of the story. Mage, to point to Christ, is the journey of messianic consciousness. Jesus gradually grew into his knowledge and role as the Messiah. It wasn’t as if he woke up one day convinced that he was the destined leader, the Hero, the Messiah, the Chosen One of his people.

His journey began as all of ours do, with discipleship. The journey is all about wrestling with our faith and choosing what we want to believe as we attempt to become who we were meant to become. Christ studied at feet of rabbis until he spoke with his own authority. Discipleship was not instant but rather it was basically apprenticeship. The goal of the student is to become as much like the teacher as possible. Discipleship would involve a changed in three areas: belief (as we turn to our Master-Teacher), behavior (our lives become slowly transformed, centering our lives around living out the kingdom mission; putting feet–action–to our faith and knowledge), and belonging (we join a specific faith community).

With his words “if any of us had total vision, none of this would be necessary,” Mirth, the World Mage, echoes Paul (“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” I Corinthians 13:12). The truth is the same, that the potential to be a hero lies within us all.

There is a vitality to the original comic. Later editions have digitalized the color, but they lose a certain vibrance to my eye. It is quite clear that Matt Wagner was finding his story-telling footing in terms of his art and writing, however, other than his classic Grendel work, I don’t know if any of his stories have resonated quite as much with me. If you ever get a chance to read this book, do so. And remember that “the magic is green!”