The Mage’s Tower
Lane Milburn, writer/artist
Closed Caption Comics, 2008
Horror comedies are often neither all that horrific nor all that comedic—and that’s just at the movies. “Funny” “horror” comics, the kinds of things that fill out the Previews section of many an Image Comics wannabe, are frequently among the most aggressively useless books on the stands. So The Mage’s Tower is sort of like rooting through your junk drawer and finding fifteen grand in crisp hundred-dollar bills. Lane Milburn not only has killer comedic timing, he also has great horrific timing, which is essentially the same thing–knowing just when to deploy a certain image to maximize its impact–but done in the service of the bizarre and disturbing.
This lovely-looking screen-printed minicomic contains three stories rooted in Milburn’s customary Black Sabbathy monsters and demons idiom. “Lugubrious Dunes” centers on the slacker son in a family of grotesques who embarks on a quest to kill some Gamorrean Guard types and get it on with a princess who has the head of a lizard–but it turns out this is all a fantasy, soon interrupted by his haranguing mother, who summons the kid to a “family dance meeting” that’s as ridiculous as it sounds. “Fisticuffs” is a page of just that, starring two creepy brutes with amusingly incongruous, slender swan heads as they duke it out in a fight that ends as rapidly as the one where Kimbo Slice got his ass handed to him in 20 seconds.
The third, final, centerpiece story, the one that really impresses you with the ingenuity of its concept and freshness of its execution, is “The Mage’s Tour.” The play-on-words in the title of the story compared to the title of the comic itself is really the big reveal–we follow two hooded and cloaked beings on what looks like an attempt to storm a villain’s fortress, but that fortress turns out to have been turned into a modern-day tourist trap by said villain, which is what the heroes have come to put a stop to. As the comic plays out, the battle between our heroes and the apostate they’ve come to thwart is intercut with reactions from a tour group who think it’s all part of the act. So as Milburn’s greasy line presents us with increasingly dynamic action and monstrous effects–like Mat Brinkman prints at their most heavy-metal–we keep getting the occasional cutaway to a guy trying to teach his wife how to use the cameraphone to take pictures of the battle and things like that. (“And then I download it?” “Umm…what do you mean?” It’s like a cameo from my mom!) There’s even a laugh-out-loud punchline that gets its own three-color splash page at the end of the book.
This cat’s good. Keep a close eye on him.