Students in over their heads, death, sexual intrigue, dismemberment, and bickering coming to a head with a threat to the whole world; The Magicians: New Class is full of these touchstones from its parent franchise, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy. We’re introduced to a handful of hedge magicians in a house in New Orleans before seeing them on a stage at Brakebills Academy for Magical Pedagogy where Dean Fogg unveils an initiative to incorporate hedge magic into the august school. Hedge magic is traditionally taught outside of institutions, passed down in informal houses and has existed for millennia. Hedge magician Keshawn Warren will be joining the staff and three of his students will be admitted as 3rd year students, the first hedge magicians to practice at Brakebills. The new students, Pat, Emily and Audrey, find themselves in a special class with three current third year students, Brian, Sophie and Andy. Andy is outspoken in his disdain for hedge magic and is only mollified upon learning the supposed history of magic traditions class is really for learning illicit battle magic. Deadly mistakes are made. A super villain is revealed. To avoid spoilers I’ll stop summarizing now. Taking place sometime after the events of the novels and TV show, the story and characters stand separate from those. Prior experience just gives the reader a fuller sense of the world. I have seen all of the TV show but have not read Grossman’s original novels.
I have read criticisms of the novels’ narrow male focus and problems with their depiction of homosexuality. This comic is a refreshing break from this, centered on a woman, peppered with sexual tension between Andy and Pat, with a nonbinary supervillain. We spend the most time with Emily, a hedge witch who hands over her prescription meds when she starts at Brakebills and is instead given a noxious green potion that she’s told will cause her body to start producing the proper hormones. I did not pick up on the importance of that scene until 30 pages later when she’s wearing a t-shirt that says “Trans Rights”, in part because I wasn’t familiar with the names of the prescriptions and there are a number of conditions (magical and not) that could be affected by hormone imbalance. It is later specifically stated (during a discussion of crushes) that Emily is trans. I thought this was a clever way of revealing this aspect of her character and a clear benefit of writer Lilah Sturges’ perspective that makes own voices books richer. Emily is the only hedge magician really interested in the formal, academic Brakebills experience, and like the previous novel/TV hero Quentin Coldwater, she feels that magic and Brakebills represent the only chance she has left at life.
The art by Pius Bak is sketchy and insubstantial, backgrounds are only hinted at, often only one or two faces are shown with strong emotional detail and any other faces are inscrutable or blank. I have to wonder if readers without a prior knowledge of Brakebills can get much of a sense of the setting from the occasional antiquated architectural fragments. Gabriel Cassata provides a wonderful moody color palette of muted browns inside the school, with the battle magic practice made visible as columns and circles of neon green and blue energy. When the students sneak out at night to show off to each other the panels are cloaked in heavy blue grays, crackling gold sparks of magic illuminating the scenes.
I loved The Magicians TV show because it was charming, inhabited by fascinating characters with deep emotional journeys and lots of hijinks. I did not find much of that in this miniseries. We don’t learn a lot about the characters, other than who they’re crushing on and what kinds of magic they’re interested in. This felt like an introduction and I was disappointed to find the series was only 5 issues, I would have enjoyed seeing the characters develop in future volumes. When they’re showing off to each other, the hedge magician Pat does a particularly meta comics trick, turning Andy’s dialog into a Mylar balloon on a string. I wanted more of that humor and playfulness that acts as a great counterpoint to the serious themes in the TV show.
I would put this in the adult section at my library but wouldn’t be surprised to see older teens heading for it, given the crossover popularity of the original novels and show. It has strong language, gore, and sex, with Audrey’s bare back the only nudity. The violence is in a fantasy vein but still made me squirm. It may appeal to fans of Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and Buffy, or any other world where young adults have to save the world. For another outstanding comic about a woman exploring the nexus of magic and trans issues, try Sex Death Revolution by Magdalene Visaggio.
The Magicians: New Class
By Lev Grossman, Lilah Sturges, Pius Bak, Gabriel Cassata,
Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 15+
Related media: Book to Comic
Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Nonbinary
Character Representation: Gay, Trans