8 Reasons You Should be Reading Matt Wagner’s Mage

Mage The Hero Denied, the third and final book in Matt Wagner’s series Mage is coming to a close. With less than five issues remaining, issue number 15 of Mage The Hero Denied will close a chapter in comic history that began over 30 years ago during the 1980’s independent comic publishing boom.

If you’re late to what Brian Michael Bendis calls “one of my all-time favorite comic series,” here’s a spoiler-free description. Mage is an epic modern fantasy about Kevin Matchstick, a reluctant hero battling supernatural forces of evil at the street-level as he struggles with his own growth and identity as a hero.

The comics serves as both heroic adventure and an allegorical autobiography for the author’s own life. At the same time, Mage takes readers on a path to connect with their own internal hero.

The final series, Mage The Hero Denied, takes on extra meaning as Matt Wagner has been joined on this book by his son Brennan Wagner as colorist.

If you’re unfamiliar with Mage, here are 8 reasons from a collection of comic professionals, reviewers, and long-time fans, why you should be reading the Mage series: The Hero Discovered, The Hero Defined, and The Hero Denied. Do yourself a favor and pick up a collected copy of The Hero Discovered and find out what all the fuss is about..

If you’re an existing fan of Mage, consider this. After 30 years, it’s here – the final chapter of Mage is coming to a close. It’s the perfect time to introduce someone to the series. Share this article on your social profiles, or send this article to a friend who you think would enjoy it. Better yet – introduce someone to the series.  Send them a gift of The Hero Discovered and share the magic.

1. It’s an epic story growing and changing over decades

“Mage is an entertaining journey through life and its changes told on a grand and epic scale, and it’s often unpredictable, like life itself. And since it’s told in real time over the course of decades, it’s fascinating to see the changes in style and direction of the art and the development of the featured characters over the years. And now, or shortly, as the series nears completion, you’ll be able to read through the entire saga all at once!”

John K Snyder III
John K. Snyder III is the creator and artist of Fashion In Action (currently available from Bedside Press) and Adapter/Artist of the graphic novel adaptation of Lawrence Block’s noir classic novel EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE (IDW). He was the inspiration for the character John J. Strider/Prester John in Mage The Hero Defined

2. It’s a master class in story-telling

Mage offers a straightforward look into the mechanics of visual storytelling. Matt Wagner is great at clearly depicting action, timing, emotion and mood through decipherable and innovative storytelling choices.

I find myself recommending Mage to fans of Hawkeye by David Aja and Matt Fraction. That’s the closest, mainstream book that captures what Mage does so well that I can think of.

Mage is such a great example of auteur-comics, of the spirit of independence, of comics history, of a creator wielding control over their career. Plus, that it becomes a father/son show is truly unique. Anyone who has ever felt frustration with the big two needs to get shown the light.”

Ben Granoff
Ben Granoff is a cartoonist and educator who is very famous in his own apartment.

“The only reason you should ever read anything is because it’s a good story, well told. Matt nails that with the whole Mage series. Matt updates ancient myths and creatures, bringing them into our world seamlessly. His art and character designs are amazing. Reading the whole series also lets you see one of comics great creators growing into his craft. Matt’s story telling style and art work have changed tremendously over the decades. You can see it all in Mage.”

Steve Fritzinger
Steve Fritzinger is a comic fan and a maker. He’s on version three of a battery-powered glowing baseball bat he uses for Mage cosplay. Steve was features in episode 10 of The Hero Described podcast.

3. It’s a modern twist on Arthurian Legends

“First off mate, you (or anyone else) should start at the beginning with Mage The Hero Discovered… If you are a fan of the King Arthur/Merlin legend than this surely is the jumping on point… What a revelation it was for me when I initially discovered the series back when it was originally published… It struck with the fury of a thunderbolt and still resonates with me to this day… Don’t get me wrong with the follow up installments but The Hero Discovered and the Interlude serialized in Grendel will always hold a very special place in my heart… But read on through The Hero Defined and The Hero Denied but read them in order of publication… Excellent works by all means and I am really entranced and excited with the final arc!”

George E Warner
George E Warner is a letterer and pre-production artist who resides in South Williamsport, PA

“If you like Arthurian legends, as well as modern takes on any mythical creature, being, etc. (and the ratings for Supernatural, American Gods and other like them indicate people do), then Matt Wagner’s Mage is an excellent comic along those lines. But not only do they have the supernatural feel, but also the super hero feel, as well as being very grounded in something very familiar: people. Kevin’s struggle to accept who he is takes place over “Discovered.” Through “Defined,” he struggles again with consequences of his actions, as well as “why can’t I be normal” but in a very real, human way. As for “Denied,” I’m still working my way through, but his attempt to be normal come back to bite him as the circle becomes complete. Not only is the writing very compelling, but Matt’s artwork is still very distinctive, fresh, stylish, and engaging.”

Timm Gillick
Timm Gillick is a cosplay photographer, web designer, devoted husband, geek dad, and budding comic book writer.

“As a lifelong lover of Arthurian Legend, I had to pick it up and find out how it would go. Mage was my first comic that didn’t feature standard superheroes but still had the same feel. It’s not just a comic book, it’s a journey. Now that we’re closer to the end I see that it’s a journey that mirrors my own. It’s the journey of a man making his way through his extremely weird life as best he can. He has moments of doubt, he doesn’t win every battle, he doesn’t get along with everyone, but he perseveres. And to me, that’s inspirational.”

C.W. Balance
C.W. Balance is an avid geek trying to do the best that he can for my wife and four kids, who are a different kind of magic.


4. It’s a treasure trove of mythological references

“I pulled a few copies from wayback, and it surprised, I had forgotten how long Wagner has been working on Mage. It’s easy to get lost in this industry sometimes as the Big Two are always shoveling new marketing material packaged with pop culture, that jewels sometimes slip through the cracks.

As a writer, Matt’s work on Mage is impressive to say the least; to carry a character as long as he has, and keep the story interesting and keep the reader engaged is not an easy feat yet Wagner never seems to encounter this!

Mage brings to mind a book, ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces’ which is a work of comparative mythology by Joseph Campbell. Campbell discusses his theory of the mythological structure of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world myths, and basically all stories are basically a version of a story that has already been told, in some shape, form, or fashion.

Wagner’s expert use of epic mythology ranging from Gilgamesh, Macbeth, and the obvious Excalibur references is ingenious. An allegorical take that taps into just about every piece of great literature from the start of civilization, yet keeping it fresh, engaging, yet earnest and honest, staying true to Matt’s character, Wagner accomplishes all this and more with the expertise of a skilled wizard!

Mage Hero Discovered, Hero Defined, & Hero Denied are without question, sleeping gems, as readable, eye catching, and as relevant today as the day they initially published.”

David Conine
David Conine is a writer of comics,editorials,comic industry news, and interviews. Press Team Leader at Comic-Watch.

The Mage series is not only a textbook-perfect modernization of the Hero’s Journey, it’s also the amazing parallel journey of its creator, Matt Wagner. It’s steeped in legends and archetypes that are ages-old while dovetailing perfectly into our modern era. It’s as near-perfect an adaptation of Mallory’s work as I’ve ever read, yet it’s completely new.

Jamie Ashby
Musician, author, artist, entertainment enthusiast, and dilettante.

5. It’s grand adventure, grounded with heart and humanity

“Matt Wagner’s Mage has more heart than just about anything else you’ll read. The protagonist’s humanity is the most essential part of the story. Mage has more than its share of fantastic kick-ass action and is a wondrously mythic tale. It’s heart, however, elevates it to a class all its own.

I’m a formerly cynical, middle-aged guy with a family. My life has paralleled Kevin Matchstick’s at the time each of the three Mage stories was released–without the kick-ass action and wondrous mythology. It’s no wonder the character speaks to me.”

W. B. West
W.B. West is a 25+ year school teacher who finds himself raising two teenage Mage fans..

“Why Read Mage?  Why did I read Mage? I think I originally came to Mage through Kevin Smith and Matt Wagner’s Jay and Silent Bob art.  I loved it when it came out in that Oni Double Feature and I wanted more.  I also was at a time when I wanted more out of my comics than just the normal superhero fare.

Mage is the story of a man vs. himself usually, and the magical things that can happen when your own potential is put on the line. We can see this story, now that the grand scheme is mostly fleshed out, is about life and different growth points.

Read Mage if you want to see what comics on a personal level can mean to a writer and how a creator owned character can grow along with it’s real human counterpart. It is comics in its truest, realest form. Personal, creative and action packed.”

Eli Schwab
Eli Schwab is an artist and podcaster of Ween Zine and Cosmic Lion Productions. He is co-host of the Can I Thwipp It podcast.

“I have always loved the build up to the issue 15 in the previous Mage series. A series of tests and life events for Kevin Matchstick to go through. Then the last 3 or so issues it moves at a quick pace and always leaves me wanting more and contemplating my life tests.”

Corey Hamilton
Writer, painter & photographer and decent human being from Canada.

6. Creators and critics love it

Coming out in the mid-80s during the independent comic boom, Mage was a critical success. It’s not uncommon to find writers and artists commenting on Mage as an influence on their work. Check out these testimonials from the new Mage series collected tradebacks.

Mage is, hands down, one of the three best comic book stories ever published since our single-celled ancestors crawled from the primordial muck.”
Kevin Smith, writer of Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma

“This is one of my all time favorite comic series. You could actually learn everything about the art of comics from reading Mage.”
Brian Michael Bendis, writer of Daredevil, The Avengers, creator of Powers

“This isn’t the work of the young buck this time, of the angry young man, but rather the work of a true Master of the Art. Like Matchstick himself, Wagner has ascended to the throne.”
Greg Rucka, writer of Lazarus, Queen & Country, Wonder Woman

“So much of what you love about the way superhero movies and TV shows have matured AND become more fun can be traced back to Matt Wagner’s Mage. Required Reading. This is a source document.”
Patton Oswalt, actor/comedian

Mage even played a pivitol role in inspiring David Steinberger, the founder of comiXology.

According to an interview with Michael Cavna in The Washington Post, Steinberger discovered issue 11 of Mage The Hero Discovered and was drawn to the artwork. “[Wagner] was watercoloring the foregrounds and airbrushing the backgrounds, and it was printed on a really nice stock,” Steinberger said. “As a 13-year-old, I was so blown away by this thing that I spent the next four years trying to fill in that collection.”

In his recent letter the the Mage The Hero Denied letter column, Steinberger states “I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that without MAGE there would be no comiXology (at least not with me involved!) Note: Check out Steinberger’s long-standing website The Annotated Mage for an issue by issue breakdown of The Hero Discovered, as well as overviews of the main characters, and villains.

Neat fact – did you know that a free trial membership to ComiXology Unlimited includes access to read digital Issues 1-8 of Mage The Hero Discovered? Yep. Check it out!

7. It defies expectations

“The normal arc of a superhero story is to begin with a young idealist and then grind them down until they become a grim anti-hero. In Mage, Kevin is already a defeated pessimist. All of his struggles through the series make him into a more optimistic hero. Pessimism is shown as a sign of youth and foolishness. Hope, trust, and joy are the signs of maturity and wisdom.

This series gets better as it goes along because Kevin Matchstick gets better as he goes along. Even the deaths of loved ones fill him with a sort of hope as he realizes that they lived their lives well and did not waste them. If you’re sick of comics where the hero is always miserable and never seems to learn from life’s setbacks, pick up Mage.”

Michael Penkas
Micheal Penkas has written two dozen short stories and a mystery novel (Mistress Bunny and the Cancelled Client).

8. It’s not your everyday capes-and-tights story

Mage was a comic book, that, back in the early ’90s when i first discovered it, was completely unlike almost anything else on the shelves at the time. It was so different than your typical capes-and-tights fare.

Matt Wagner has a very unique style, still to this day, and that originality only helps the book to stand apart from the other books on the shelves. I would recommend Mage to anyone looking for something different.

Mage, along with Matt’s other series Grendel, is a perfect example of just how well comics can be used to tell a continuous story.”

James Doe
James Doe is a long time comics reader/collector/lover, and possibly the biggest Grendel fan in the universe.

“It’s not the standard super hero story, about super heroes doing super things. The Hero Discovered is about a superhero not WANTING to be a superhero. Caught up in a world he barely understands, when all he wanted to do was go to work. The Hero Defined is about managing your place among other super heroes, mixed in with a nasty hunt, for sure, but that’s almost a secondary plot. The Hero Denied is about a super hero…..managing a family. It’s not your typical super hero story.”

Jenn Dolari
Jenn Dolari is the author of two web comics: A Wish for Wings and Closetspace.


Alright – so I know this says there are 8 reasons you should be reading Mage – but just in case you’re still not convinced, here’s one more reason!

9.  Because – well it’s just awesome

“Cause it’s Tizznii fizz!!!”

Manus “Jan” Dunbar
My friends call me Jan.

“When the Hero Defined came out in the mid 90s, I worked at a comic store – and pushed that book like mad. We sold out of the first two issues and had to restock them. At the time, I would usually make suggestions for books I liked. Getting the original series back in the 80s was an exciting time, and so I was stoked about it, and recommended it when I could.

To recommend it to someone today, and as to why someone should read it:

1.) I would definitely have them pick up the trades of the first two series. The series really does take you on a journey , and it is a singular vision , and not only do you follow the character(s) on a path, but the creator. One aspect I really enjoy is the change / progression in the art / writing/ and production.

2.) another plus is the supporting cast of characters – they all hold your interest – Sean and Edsel, Kirby Hero, Joe Phatt, Hugo, etc.

3.) the mixing of the everyday with the surreal/ magic elements is great – and done in a believable way

4.) does someone want to be entertained and longing to see what happens next? Mission accomplished – it feels like you really are on the journey with Kevin/Matt – and the best thing is you can expect the unexpected.”

Andrew Edge Art
Artist, writer, self-publisher at Cool Monkey Press where you can find artwork and prints for sale.