Five Thoughts About Umbral, A Dirty-Fingernailed Fantasy

By Alasdair Stuart:

I really liked the first issue of Umbral. Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten, John Rauch and Thomas Mauer's new fantasy series is brutal, dirty-fingernailed fantasy of a sort that doesn't get enough press. Following Rascal, a female thief who sees something horrific begin its invasion of her kingdom and her friends, the book is Invasion of the Bodysnatchers by way of fantasy, steampunk and Terry Gilliam. The first issue sold out, and the second printing, along with the second issue, is out this week. Here are five thoughts about issue 2.

1. Rascal Fights Dirty

Issue 2 opens where issue 1 closed, with Rascal in a lot of trouble. Johnston manages to never lose sight of the fact his heroine is smaller than everyone else in the fight without once making her seem like a victim. Rascal fights fast and dirty and she likes winning, largely because she doesn't get to do it too often.

Umbral 1-Rascal Fights Dirty

2.  Rascal Brought Down

This is one of those moments where everything clicks. From a script point of view this not only emphasizes how outgunned Rascal is but shows just what a brutal world this is, and how the rules are changing. Artistically, Mitten shows us how hard the impact is by having her literally knocked flying. Rauch's colours gives us the stark line of blood at her mouth and Mauer's lettering neatly communicates just how out of it she is, as well as her refusal to stay down. A perfect snapshot of a character, in two panels.

Umbral 2-Rascal Brought Down

3.  Meet Dalone

Dalone is the new arrival this issue. Again you get a snapshot of the character all in one panel here, Rauch giving his hand a subtle glow, Mitten showing us the change in stance from the slumped pseudo-hobo of earlier pages and Johnston and Mauer putting the polite, quiet, unsettling words in his mouth. This is a real 'basically…run'  moment and answers some questions about Dalone even as it raises new ones.

Umbral 3-Dalone

A "basically…run!" moment:


4.  The Bucket List

This is just fun. The ongoing discussion about whether or not Rascal can trust Dalone, played out against the colossal dredging(?) structure that's been in the background of a couple of scenes. It's a nice visual gag, a good character beat and this panel actually runs the length of one side of the page it's on. It's visual wit to match the real wit of the script.

Umbral 4-Bucket List

5.  It's a Kind of Massively Illegal Magic

Finally, some more of that subtle world building. There's a hugely well thought out universe under this book and Rascal is going to pick its pockets and sell the contents back to it before this book is done. The idea of magic and religion both being viewed as crimes here is especially nicely handled and looks set to be one of the threads of the overall story arc.

Umbral 5-It's a kind of massively illegal magic

Cheerfully horrible, and just flat out cheerful in places. Umbral is tremendous fun. Issue 2 came out on the 18th along with the second print of issue 1. Both are $2.95 and published by Image.

Alasdair Stuart is a freelance journalist, podcaster and RPG designer. He's written for the official Doctor Who, Primeval and Victoriana RPGs and hosts Pseudopod (, a weekly horror fiction podcast. Find him on Twitter at

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Hannah Means ShannonAbout Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.
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