Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer/Artist: Gene Ha
Release Date: 18th May, 2016
Originally a smash hit on Kickstarter and now released in a serialized format by Dark Horse Comics, Gene Ha’s MAE tells the story of two sisters, Abbie and Mae. Abbie, who disappeared mysteriously eight years ago, suddenly resurfaces, telling tall tales of fantasy exploits in a hidden magical realm – a realm whose monsters may have followed Abbie back to the real world. Mae is understandably skeptical at first, but as the proof starts to mount up, she may be forced to admit that her estranged sister’s stories are actually true.
While it has all the hallmarks of great “portal fiction” (many thanks to Fables creator Bill Willingham for clueing me into that particular phrase during his foreword) like The Wizard of Oz or The Chronicles of Narnia, this is primarily a set-up issue for the characters rather than the story itself. Which, to be honest, is no bad thing. Best known as an artist, Ha shows some impressive writing chops here as he deftly handles the mystery of Abbie’s disappearance and mysterious return, and while there isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking about the story – for the time being, at least – there’s an easygoing charm to the dialogue that keeps the pages turning throughout the course of this first issue.
Undoubtedly the biggest selling point of Mae is going to be multiple Eisner Award winning artist Ha’s typically stellar work on the visual side of the book. Featuring striking character design – particularly, it seems, with the barely-seen monsters – and a wonderful softness of touch throughout, there’s no denying that this is an absolutely gorgeous looking book from start to finish. Plus, as the supernatural starts to gradually creep into the real world over the course of the series, Ha is going to have more and more opportunity to flex his artistic muscle – a truly mouthwatering prospect if ever there was one. The colouring is also particularly worthy of note, with Ha’s sense of flair and technical ability adding a stunning amount of depth to the characters and their surroundings.
Perhaps it’s an unfortunate drawback of splitting a story into an episodic format that wasn’t originally intended as such, but for me, this first issue didn’t quite ‘pop’ like I hoped it would. The characters are solid enough, but there’s nothing in the premise yet that we haven’t seen a dozen times before. Yes, the artwork is as spectacular as you might expect, but I’m going to reserve judgment on Mae until I get a chance to see where Ha is planning on taking his story.
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