Written by: Andrez Bergen
Art by: Frantz Kantor
Warning: Contains spoilers
Modern pop culture suffers from a particular malady – the inability to conclude stories. This is an epidemic in mediums ranging from video games to television series to comics. The desire to create a franchise has hamstrung creators’ ability to construct satisfying, structured narratives. Many modern comics meander without offering any real resolution, character development or world building. There seems to be a desire to fill up pages and produce comics that trudge on issue after issue without reaching a climax or conclusion.
I acknowledge that interlocking plot threads and reoccurring characters are vital to ongoing stories. Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman included reoccurring characters and themes. But both comics could still be divided into clear-cut story arcs and also included several self-contained issues.
In the past, many great comic scribes were adept at writing both issue-spanning tales and one-shots. There’s nothing quite like a one-shot to showcase a writer’s skills since one has to introduce and resolve all the story elements within a certain amount of pages. Sadly, this is something you seldom see nowadays.
Magpie #1 is a rare pleasure. It’s an 8-page tale from the pages of Oi Oi Oi ! #7 This is an award-winning Australian comic anthology published on a quarterly basis.
Andrez Bergen crafts a beautifully paced yarn in the tradition of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. He manages the impressive task of introducing a character, establishing a vivid world and concluding a story in third of the pages utilized by your average comic. There are nods to different influences ranging from Golden Age works to iconic Japanese anime.
Magpie #1 focuses not on the titular character but on the unfortunate 3D Man, a failed hero. 3D man blames his lacklustre performance as a masked avenger on the fact that he’s colorblind and suffers from poor depth perception. Despite the delightful retro feel of this comic, you can’t help but think that Bergen is taking a jab at the internet generation.
3D Man embodies the entitled narcissism found among certain internet users. A hero is defined by their ability to care for others, to play the role of protector even at the cost of their own personal happiness. 3D Man shows no real interest in those around him or their well-being. You get the sense that he became a hero for much the same reason that people post endless selfies on social media – self-gratification.
However, lacking the skills or drive to succeed, he blames those around him for his failures. The comic opens with him delivering a litany of his woes. Rather than strive to improve, he’s quick to bewail his condition and all he’s suffered.
At no point does he acknowledge that he might be responsible for his current situation. That, coupled with a hilarious over-reaction to an interviewer’s questions, reminds one of the hysteria provoked by perceived attacks on online personas.
3D Man is the embodiment of the worst of the online generation. He’s derivative (even his name is stolen from a pre-existing character), whiny and ultimately, revengeful. When his exploits fail to win him prestige, he turns to crime instead.
Yet Bergen still manages to evoke sympathy for him. By trying to be exceptional without any qualifications to do so, 3D Man quickly becomes a target of ridicule. Not that it justifies his reinvention as a villain. It’s implied that his drive to be a superhero was born out of a need for praise rather than anything legitimate. He certainly abandons any pretense of morality once he feels scorned by the public.
At its heart, Magpie #1 is a witty observation about the rise of narcissism in the modern world. 3D Man exhibits the two socially disruptive aspects of narcissistic personalities – grandiose exhibitionism and a sense of entitlement. Bergen uses humor to take the sting from his satirical observations. He manages to makes us laugh even while drawing our attention to a serious issues in society. Magpie #1 is a piercing social commentary coupled with enchanting retro aesthetics.
Frantz Kantor’s artwork is exuberant and stunning. The character designs recall The Incredibles and Bruce Timm’s Batman The Animated Series. The cast is deliberately exaggerated into iconic archetypes. 3D Man looks every inch the classic hero which makes his bathetic monologue all the more amusing. Each page is rendered with extraordinary care and has a tactile quality that stands out from the glossy coloring found in many mainstream works. The innovative approach to panel layouts ensures that every scene flows smoothly. Each character’s expressions and body language is delightful. This is a Pixar masterpiece in comic book form.
Magpie #1 may have all the exuberance of a Saturday morning cartoon but it’s a complicated work that challenges the reader.