Writer: Caleb Monroe
Artist: Mariano Navarro
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Comic books have a tendency to overdo magic. Whereas in our real world the pinnacle of magic can be something like David Blaine sticking a needle through his arm or adding himself to a photo on your own iPhone, in comics the pinnacle of magic is Dr. Strange fighting the dreaded Dormammu in the astral plane. Cool, yes, but substantially less likely to earn quarters on a New York street corner. Aside from Y: The Last Man and Yorrick’s would-be career as a magician, I’ve rarely seen a comic portray a regular Gob Bluth working the crowds with a healthy dose of card tricks and “The Final Countdown.”
“Cloaks #1” enters this void with a book about the so-called Banksy of magic, a young street performer who keeps his identity a mystery with a mask and impromptu show times and keeps crowds enthralled with completely mind-blowing tricks like turning a statue of a gold bull into 30 miniature versions of the same statue and then somehow placing the mini gold bulls in the audience’s pockets. Even Dr. Strange blinks at that one. Our charming magician returns his profits to the orphanage where he grew up and is friends with a nun (swoon). Lest he be entirely perfect, Mr. Magic Banksy has a bit of vice: he likes to play Robin Hood and steal from rich clients who contract his magical services.
For a new comic book about magic, “Cloaks #1” is disappointingly short on tricks. Maybe it’s unfair to expect a book’s style and tone to mirror its subject matter, but I was really hoping for some grand illusion and sleight of hand in these pages, and instead this is fairly straight forward comic book fare. There is one intriguing use of the comic book form, where the creative team of Caleb Monroe and Mariano Navarro transform the right rail of a page into a lesson on the six approaches to magic, while our magician performs before a crowd in the art to the left. Sadly, this is the only instance of any similar efforts, at least that I noticed. Are there hidden bits of information throughout that only a trained eye would catch? I hope so, and I hope that I simply wasn’t skilled enough to catch them.
As a whole, “Cloaks #1” has potential but feels like it’s playing the story a little too safe. By the end of the book, the entire story feels all too familiar, like going home with an unwanted animal balloon instead of a story about the lady you just saw getting sawed in half. Street magicians embroiled in a larger scheme like Ocean’s 11 meets Robin Hood is a fun concept, but unfortunately “Cloaks #1” doesn’t reveal enough of it to form a major hook. The book is very close to a hearty recommendation, but as is, this is a wait-and-see type of story.
I’m hoping Cloaks will take more chances as the 4-issue miniseries progresses. There’s potential for a great adventure/heist/magic mash-up within these pages, and to its credit, the first issue largely sets the scene for the action to come. That said, I think Monroe and Navarro are at their best in this issue when they’re experimenting with the form and letting the magic of comics take control. Here’s to hoping “Cloaks #2” has more behind the curtain.
“Cloaks #1” earns 6.0 / 10