By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
April 6, 2010 -- What if the world operated on a system of magic that only a few knew – and one of those few was a jerk who basically used it to cadge free meals?
That’s not exactly the premise of the graphic novel Mysterious the Unfathomable
(DC/WildStorm, $17.99) – there’s a lot more to it than that – but it’s one of the aspects of this story that make it so charming. Although “charming” probably isn’t a word one would normally associate with a book that suggests a loosely disguised Dr. Seuss has been tricking kids for years into chanting magic phrases. Or one where witches exist, and do all their rites in the nude (“the good ones, anyway” says Mysterius). But seriously, “charming” is the right word.
Even if our “hero” is kinda venal, petty, greedy and selfish. Not to mention “duplicitous, lustful and inconsiderate!” laughs Jeff Parker, the author of Mysterius the Unfathomable,
who has worked his way up the totem pole at Marvel and DC comics companies on the strength of sheer talent. His energetic stories, organic dialogue and sense of fun make his superhero books a treat, but those qualities really shine in Mysterius
Who, as noted, is kind of a jerk. “He does have a conscience though,” Parker said in an interview, “and her name is Delfi, his assistant. For him to be a whole and functioning person, she must be there.”
Delfi is the other star of Mysterius,
a former reporter who gets roped into being Mysterius’s gal Friday – and finds she enjoys it.
“The Magician's Assistant job fits her personality – she’s fascinated with odd things,” Parker said. “Delfi's a problem solver, and Mysterius's life presents plenty of those. In her job she keeps finding out secrets about the way things really work in the world, that magic plays a much bigger role than most people know. And she's learning magic, but she has no inclination to be a witch or anything like that.”
Or maybe I should say that the other star is Tom Fowler, the artist on Mysterius
. His work vaguely recalls Jack Davis (famous for movie parodies in Mad
), but he is clearly a unique talent. His pot-bellied, bulbous-nosed Mysterius is one of a kind in comics, and Parker jokingly attributes a lot of Mysterius’s origin to Fowler himself.
“I've based [Mysterius] on many people, and the worst parts of me, I must admit,” Parker said. “There's a fair amount of Tom Fowler in there too. (The gut is all Tom Fowler.)”
But Parker says Fowler was more than a model, joking or not. If Parker is Mysterius’s father, Fowler is his godfather. Or maybe his obstetrician.
“This is most telling – once Tom came onboard as a co-creator, I then dropped any limitations I might have imposed upon the story,” Parker said. “Tom can draw Dr. Seuss-inspired demons, the Burning Man event, the most desolate territory of Hell, anything. He's a world-class talent who makes characters live. And he can write – he constantly suggests story elements or builds more intrigue into the scene. With Tom you get a many layered work that reveals more upon re-reading. He's that good.”
But Parker’s that good, too. And Mysterius
comes from a place that has nothing to do with superheroes.
“I wanted a book that did for comics what Douglas Adams did for sci-fi/fantasy,” Parker said. “I wanted a very human character that we root for to do right, but understand that he probably won't. I like the 1900 era of stage magic and wanted a protagonist from that world who has cheated death and blended in to fit every age since. And I wanted heroes who weren't capable of beating up anyone; they have to succeed by their wits.”
And that would be Mysterius, who exhibits another rarity in comics: three dimensions.
“I wanted to explore a character who isn't noble, but very interesting to follow around,” Parker said. “You shouldn't ever want a friend like Mysterius, but hopefully you will always need to see what he's up to.”
The result is a book that is not only fun to read, but one that Parker said was fun to create.
“Readers will be able to see that … Tom Fowler and I indulged almost every whim we could that worked for our story. I'm happy that the concept allows us to go so far. It's a blast for us!”
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at