‘Hex11: The Magic Arises’ - Trade Paperback Review

The comic series, Hex11, has had quite an adventure since its inception back in 2014. The series’ first six issues saw a release in a trade paperback collection after a successful Kickstarter campaign and was nominated for the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity. The series is about to see the release of their ninth issue sometime in February, spearheaded by artist Lisa K. Weber, writer Kelly Sue Milano, and producer Lynly Forrest.

The story in the trade paperback collection, Hex11: The Magic Rises, focuses on Elanor, a young witch in training under the powerful witch, Vera. Elanor is a powerful witch who has yet to learn to temper herself and control her powers and is often sent on tasks she believes to be beneath her. Issue one of the series begins with Elanor on such a task to purchase a scarf for Vera, but in the process, thwarts the demon Osrick from killing a thief/anarchist named Booth who had stolen an artifact called the Radix. The narrative unfolds as various entities try to retrieve the Radix (the mysterious Miss Grey and her sadistic assassin Faye, Madam Argent of the Omega Corporation, and even Elanor with a strained alliance with Osrick) and harness its power.

The general genre of Hex11 mixes cyberpunk, urban fantasy, and future dystopia, which makes it currently quite en vogue. The general gist of the story has all the standard genre tropes to it; the catalyst of the story starts with a random chance encounter, the main character being a youthful and ambitious yielder of power who can’t control it (from Luke Skywalker to Dr. Strange), a variation of the love/hate relationship with someone of the opposite gender whom they have to partner with on their quest, and so on. The tropes may be standard, but Hex11’s unabashed embrace of them does allow the series to be extremely palpable to new readers.

The overall plot may be cookie cutter, but Hex11 differentiates itself by taking macro concepts and instead addresses them at a micro (personal) level. For example, the first page of issue two is the first and only time in the trade paperback that a reader will see an unobstructed view of the cityscape world of Hex11 via the window of a highrise office. (The same view is peppered a few times in the background in issue six.) All depictions of the world instead focus on smaller-scale scenes: narrow alleyways and safe houses in particular. Many of these scenes are further pushed to the background; focus is always on the characters and their actions and not the world proper. This creates a possible stumbling block for readers: how does one convey a strange and unique world without actually showing it?

There is were the attention to detail at the micro level in Hex11 rises above and beyond. While a reader never gets a fully painted picture of the Hex11 world, much is inferred from the characters themselves who provide the context and actions of how the world operates. Orally, the character of Booth provides the required world building via his political rants and anarchistic schemes to overthrow the Omega Corporation. It is via his monologues that readers become attuned to how the Hex11 world operates.

Visually, the depiction of how magic is executed provides the most unique venue for conveying Hex11’s world. When using the arcane arts, characters manifest circuit board-like lines on their bodies and in the air about them, the terminus of these lines being roughly petroglyphic. For example, when the character Izolde needs to talk with someone long distance, green circuit-glyphs appear on her ear and reach to her mouth, creating a simile of a phone. It’s a practical application, taking the mundane act of talking on the phone and transforming it into something new visually, but it also adds to how the world operates.

Aside from the depiction of magic, it is the characters of Hex11 that truly drive the uniqueness of the story rather than the story itself. The characters of Hex11 are simply beautifully executed by Weber. From the main cast to background characters, each person is drawn to be eye catching and memorable, solidifying Hex11’s strong attention to detail. Even characters in the background, or third-tier characters, are fully fleshed out rather than nondescript masses typically found in comics. Many of the women in Hex11 sport thick bangs, reminiscent of the old-school style of anime during the '80s and '90s. (With the comic’s cyberpunk vibe, the anime Bubblegum Crisis comes to mind.) This reaching back to the past for an older visual cue and re-appropriating it for modern sensibilities is one of the many little touches that gives Hex11 a unique charm.

The majority of these touches are actually found in Milano’s writing. The character of Booth is shown in a few panels being in a relationship with another male, its depiction neither exotic or exaggerated, but portrayed realistically (something still a rarity in the various medias out there). The security force of the Omega Corporation are shown to be ruthless and authoritative, beating the populace of The Hex with their clubs, and yet one of them breaks from the pack and shows a different side as he allows a little boy and his winged cat an avenue of escape. The demon, Osrick, is at first shown being (apparently) a cold-blooded killer about to execute Booth, yet sympathy arises for the character via his dialogue with Agnes in that he wants dearly to return home. These characters, both major and minor, show the gamut of how complex and individual people can be. None of these examples feel like quirks or elements shoe-horned in for the sake of having them. Instead, they are seamlessly incorporated into the narrative, giving it humanistic dimensions that other comics lack.

Hex11 is truly a unique comic. The first six issues at a general level may not initially seem to convey it, with reliance on standard genre tropes, but within the characters proper, both their visual and written aspects, Hex11 stands out. It’s a beautifully drawn comic, and the overall package embraces its accessibility, certainly increasing its attractiveness to entice readers. With the foundational work laid in The Magic Rises, it will be exciting to see what unfolds as the story of Hex11 continues to develop.

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