I'm a sucker for complex fantasy worlds, so the premise for "Rise of the Magi" had me pretty hooked. When power-hungry villains go after the magic that holds the universe together, Asa Stone is thrust from his homeworld of Rune to modern Earth on a quest to stop them. The ambitious dual-world setting and fish-out-of-water scenario should play nicely together, combining dense plotting with a light touch. Unfortunately, Issue #1 suffers from structural problems and writing that often falls flat. The result is a mixed bag that drags in the middle and only finds its momentum by the end.
Atypical for a Free Comic Book Day issue, "Rise of the Magi" #0 wasn't made up of reprinted or soon-to-be-reprinted content. It was an independent, integral part of the series -- a confident move for FCBD content in principle, but one that places a tricky burden on Issue #1. Silvestri now has to ensure that the zero issue means something while still providing a cohesive first issue. As a result, this issue is split into two different "chapters," one set in flashback and one in the present, chronologically sandwiching the FCBD content. Telling a story without a middle makes for choppy reading, even for those who've read the #0 issue. It robs the plot of its build, making events feel longer and less connected than they otherwise would. Unsurprisingly, the end of the first half drags significantly.
In general, Chapter One is cartoonier and less compelling than Chapter Two. It's devoted to backstory about Asa's brother, a decorated member of the Spellguard, and some of the world-building around them is a little silly. The art did not help in this regard. I loved the previews of Kesgin's pencils, but the inking is a touch too strong on the outlines. Combined with Gonia's coloring, it makes the characters feel less expressive and organic, more like toys or cartoons. A lighter touch would let more of Kesgin's energy out while still keeping the fun look.
When the book moves into Chapter Two, Silvestri takes over on art and the action gears up. With the focus back on Asa and the danger at hand, the book becomes an easier and more engaging read. Silvestri's art is wild and energetic, even if the lines look rushed and overly sketchy, and it fits the frenzy of the last few pages perfectly.
All criticisms aside, there's promise in "Rise of the Magi." The unique parts of the fantasy world -- its collision with technology, the two-world structure, the division of labor on Rune -- are intriguing. The less interesting, more thinly wrought elements can easily get pushed to the back in favor of the better elements. The protagonist is likable enough, though not yet memorable, and those last few pages demonstrate that this team can create and execute an exciting plot.
Coming off Issue #1, I am not excited for the next issue, per say, but I'll certainly check it out if there's a slow week or I hear good things. The series has piqued my interest, but it didn't get its hooks into me yet.