Mystic: The Tenth Apprentice spins a familiar-yet-compelling story of orphans, prophecies, and magic. Neither its plot points nor its steampunk setting break new ground, but the customary pieces are assembled skillfully. Mystic breaks away from the pack of similar tales by the strength of its emotional core, built around the relationship of its protagonists: two teenaged girls whose friendship and subsequent separation drive the plot of the story.
Growing up in the Limpet Hall Orphanage for Girls in the city of Hyperion and land of Verne, Genevieve and Giselle have toiled in service to Mistress Alenora to be rewarded with bare subsistence. Idealistic Genevieve hopes for a better life and spends her spare moments sneaking into Alenora’s library to teach herself the Noble Arts, a sort of techno-magic based on the manipulation of aether. Cynical Giselle is certain the aristocracy will never accept a common orphan as a magical scholar, but indulges Genevieve’s fancies and tags along to the library. When a twist of fate drives the girls from the orphanage, it’s Giselle who fulfills a secret prophecy and is accepted as an apprentice of the Noble Arts. Genevieve, meanwhile, is turned out into the gutter. Hurt and embittered, she falls in with a group of revolutionaries plotting to overthrow the aether-fueled aristocracy to which she once dreamed of ascending.
This is high-concept stuff, and author G. Willow Wilson described the series as “high-fantasy Mean Girls meets Les Miserable.” I love prophecies and techno-golems as much as the next person, but the girls’ friendship is what makes this book remarkable. The reader is quickly aware that Genevieve and Giselle are two parts of a whole. Genevieve needs Giselle’s quick-witted pragmatism to live in a difficult world and Giselle needs Genevieve’s wide-eyed optimism to do more than just survive. Wilson is very clever to construct a plot in which each girl is isolated in a situation better suited to the other and skillful enough to arrange it all without a hint of contrivance.
A large measure of the credit for the characters’ believability must go to penciller David Lopez and inker Alvaro Lopez. Both Genevieve and Giselle have wonderfully imperfect and emotive faces, coupled with realistic bodies costumed with an eye toward character and narrative logic. It’s always refreshing to read a comic in which young women are drawn with an emphasis on story and character over high-gloss cheesecake. It’s hard to reconcile this art to images from the original Mystic series.
The original Mystic ran for 43 issues in the early 2000s, published by the short-lived CrossGen Comics. It was a story of magic and intrigue with main characters named Genevieve and Giselle, but it doesn’t appear to share many more characteristics with this miniseries reboot. This may have been a disappointment to fans of the original series, but it served me well. I’d never read the original and was able to jump into the miniseries without any confusion. Unfortunately, I now have something in common with fans of the original Mystic; we are united in our disappointment over the premature end of a comic of which we would have loved to see more.