October 18, 2013 12:53pm PT by Graeme McMillan
Antony Johnston Reveals the World of 'Umbral' (Exclusive)
After successfully conquering the world of horror comics via Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's The Walking Dead and bringing new humanity to science fiction comics with Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' Saga, it looks like the fantasy genre is next for independent publisher Image Comics. November will bring the debut of Umbral, a new series from Antony Johnston and Chris Mitten that gives a new spin to familiar genre tropes.
"It's the story of Rascal, a young thief who breaks into the royal palace to steal a precious jewel -- but ends up witnessing the horrific murder of the king and queen in a dark magic ritual," Johnston tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Rascal has stumbled upon a stealth invasion by the Umbral, shadow creatures that everyone thought were just a legend. But the Umbral are very real, very dangerous ... and now Rascal holds the key to stopping them."
Johnston describes Rascal as "independent, strong-willed, streetwise, and takes absolutely no shit from anyone," and "she has a wicked streak of sarcastic humor, which she'll need to get through the events that are about to unfold." She is just one of two main characters in Umbral, alongside "hirsute hobo" Dalone.
"Dalone is pretty much Rascal's opposite," according to Johnston. "Not only is he an adult, well-spoken, educated, and generally law abiding ... he's also destitute, living in the gutter. How on earth could someone like that be involved in all this? We don't know. But Rascal quickly figures out there's more to Dalone than meets the eye, and no doubt readers will, too."
As anyone who's read Wasteland (the post-apocalyptic previous collaboration between Johnston and Mitten) already knows, the setting for the series will be just as important as the characters. In Umbral's case, the setting is the Kingdom of Fendin, which Johnston says is "a dark fantasy land where terrible things with sharp teeth lurk in the shadows and anyone with a lick of sense stays well away from the forest at night. Not that the cities are much better, what with all the thieves, smugglers and assassins roaming about."
Fendrin has something that differentiates it from other fantasy kingdoms, however. "Magic and religion are both completely illegal," Johnston explains. "Centuries ago, the Fendish turned to science and education instead, led by their wise men, whom they call Profoss. It heralded an age of reason and learning -- which is all very well, until you find yourself invaded by shadow creatures."
Umbral #1 will be released November 13 digitally and in comic stores. If you're curious about what to expect, enjoy an exclusive preview of the first issue below.