Legacy and family have long been themes that our favorite comics have explored. Alisa Kwitney, Mike Norton, Jordie Bellaire and Deron Bennett weave a story in MYSTIK U, their new, standalone urban fantasy set outside of DC continuity, that despite being steeped in magic and ancient lore is supremely relatable. Who hasn't had to live up or down to the expectations of our parents? Who hasn't had to stumble through a thoroughly new environment, whether it's school, college or even work?
From the moment we meet our protagonist Zatanna, she's living in her father's shadow, literally, as an assistant in his magic show. Kwitney offers this little meta commentary on Zatanna's place as a legacy character in the DC canon while also establishing that her father either doesn't want to recognize, or isn't capable of recognizing, his daughter’s powers.
In a world filled with aliens who draw their superpowers from the sun, billionaire vigilantes who crime fight in the shadows of towering cities and literal goddesses molded from clay, it's easy to forget that the DC Universe has an entire roster of fantastical magic characters who wield powers that Bruce and Clark couldn't even dream of. Giving these heroic outliers a home, the world of Mystik U is something unlike anything we've ever seen within the DC Universe before. One part Hogwarts and one part Hall of Justice, the magical university is filled with reinventions of characters we know and love, each one just trying to figure out their place in the world.
If you've ever wondered how characters like June Moone A.K.A. the Enchantress learned how to hone their powers for the first time, Mystik U gives us a look at that process. The book shows us what it's actually like for some of our favorite DC creations to experience burgeoning powers and teenagehood. It's the perfect way to build lore that we know while also acting as a wonderful jumping-on point for new audiences who might not be familiar with the characters, but just love young adult stories rooted in fantasy, horror and magic.
Mystik U is a surprisingly deep, complex and powerful comic about finding your capabilities, finding your friends and most importantly, finding yourself. There's something really special about a book that effectively utilizes the oft-overused puberty and superpowers analogy by completely committing to it. As someone who was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 16, I find the concept of teens at odds with their bodies and the strange new things that they're capable of infinitely relatable, so Mystik U immediately grabbed my attention. Often the strongest superhero stories are the ones where our characters are flawed...and when are any of us more flawed than when we're teenagers?
One of the scariest things about growing up is learning to trust and working out who's worthy of that gift. For the students of Mystik U, who're grappling with trust, the stakes are much higher. A teacher who doesn't like you might try and kill you instead of giving you detention. If you fall in love with the wrong boy, he may well end up being the cause of your early demise.
As we move further into the tale of of tortured teens, the focus begins to shift. Though the core team of Zatanna, Sebastian Faust, June, Pia Morales, Davit Sargon and the sentient blob of protoplasm known as Plop are still concerned with teenage things, they also have to start contending with a dark evil which threatens to engulf them and everything around them.
Of course, becoming aware of the dangers around us is a huge part of coming of age, and Kwitney, Norton, Bellaire and Bennett manage to tap into that in a vital way. When a member of our young group has to fight against the curse of their apparent destiny, she realizes that we are not in any way beholden to our supposed fate. We have the power to carve our own paths.
It's inherently terrifying when you realize that the people who are meant to be looking after you are failing, and not just that, but that sometimes they're actually the ones hurting you. Yet in this comic, our core group finds the strength to come together and organize, to protect not just one another, but also the school and world as a whole.
There is something massively powerful about watching a group of young people battle evil with nothing but magic, friendship and sheer willpower and come out on top. In a world that often underestimates the impact of young people, Mystik U stands out as a celebration of the friendship and resilience of teenagers.
Rosie Knight writes about Young Adult comics and the DC Universe in general for DCComics.com. Click here to read her recent breakdown of Mariko Tamaki and Joëlle Jones's SUPERGIRL: BEING SUPER, and be sure to follow her on Twitter at @RosieMarx.