Rafer Roberts (Writer), Kristen Gudsnuk (Artist)
Dark Horse Comics
9 January, 2019
Sage of the Riverlands has her head in the clouds. She craves adventure and some purpose for her life. Instead, she’s stuck in a boring data-entry job with unhelpful co-workers, thanks to a colossal mountain of student loan debt. This is not the life she had planned for herself when she moved to God’s Helm, but it’s about to get much better.
Sage shares a crappy apartment, which she can barely ever scrape together rent for, with her bestie Gondra the dwarf, and Lizard Wizard, a, well, lizard who is a wizard. While Sage has no problem with Gondra’s new beau, Spenser, a cleric who works on the fourth floor of her building, she really doesn’t like LW’s goblin boyfriend, Fentax, who is a part-time thief.
Unable to help himself, Fentax steals an amulet from someone LW does business with. Little does he know that the amulet was being held for the mafia. Before long, Fentax is kidnapped and Sage’s motley crew of humans and fantasy creatures find themselves on a grand adventure to save the city.
Modern Fantasy is a really fun, lighthearted adventure tale, and I absolutely loved it. This is the kind of comic book you can curl up with after a busy day. Despite its real-world relevance—crippling debt and dead-end jobs—this book more than delivers on its promise of being escapist fare.
The characters are very relatable, which makes this book even more fun to read. Haven’t we all been called to an hours-long meeting by management just when we have a ton of work to finish? Sage’s life is just like ours, and her longing for an adventure-filled existence is exactly what many of us desire. There’s something incredibly cathartic about seeing Sage and her friends go from living dreary lives to become the saviors of their city.
Sage is a positive, yet plucky protagonist who is imaginative and good in a fight, but she also needs time to actually come up with a plan, like normal people would. I love that she doesn’t have all the answers but figures things out as and when she needs to. It makes her very believable.
Sage’s cohorts are a fun and dynamic little group. Gondra initially seems a bit flaky, but she’s incredibly hard-working and absolutely fearless. I love how she goes haring into battle with her mother’s trusty hammer, laying waste to criminals and demons alike. This is definitely the person you want by your side in a fight.
I did not expect the inclusionary romance between LW and Fentax. A gay relationship in a fantasy series—why don’t more comics do this? They’re quite a sweet couple, despite one being a wizard with performance issues and the other being a kleptomaniac goblin. They are loving and protective, but also critical when the situation warrants. Their romance was equal parts adorable and authentic.
There’s a running theme of romance in this book that I’m not completely sold on. LW and Fentax are the only established relationship at first, but Gondra and Spenser quickly gather steam and even Sage, who is a bit unworldly, catches someone’s eye as the story progresses. I didn’t feel the need for the main characters to all get paired up, not in this first volume, and would have preferred a slow-burn over a few more issues. However, I appreciate the creators of Modern Fantasy wanting to give the characters a happy ending. This is a feel-good story after all.
As enjoyable a story as this is, it is Modern Fantasy’s worldbuilding that really draws you in. Creators Rafer Roberts and Kirsten Gudsnuk added a lot of details on the fly, but it works! They make you look at each panel individually because there’s always something you’ll learn about God’s Helm.
I would strongly suggest going through the whole book again once you’ve finished reading it. I went back and looked at only the visuals, without reading the dialogue, and I saw so many amazing little details I’d missed—like the fact that the citizens drink Minotaur milk—and all the fun little shops and signs everywhere pointing to the existence of Cthulhu. This is a world so expertly well-built, you could believe its real!
There are some subversive moments in this book that gave me so much joy to read. I love that a lot of the male characters require saving by the female characters, both of whom have plenty of courage and strength. The final act, which is essentially one long battle, includes many such moments that made me cheer.
Modern Fantasy is the kind of enjoyable, escapist fare that makes me love comics. It includes wonderful characters that I loved getting to know, a world that is so brilliantly designed I feel like I’ve actually visited it, and a story that gladdens the heart. I can’t wait to go back for more!