Writer/Artist: Steve Skroce
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee

Even though he started to become a bit of a name around the exact time I was getting into comic books, Steve Skroce is honestly a talent I don’t really recall running directly into honestly until his collaboration on WE STAND ON GUARD with Brian K. Vaughan a couple years back. Admittedly, I was such a newbie to pretty much everything creative back then that the idea of paying attention to the names at the beginning of the books that would start shaping my life, but even though he worked on some stuff very much in my wheelhouse, I just somehow missed the man’s work. And I guess that really means nothing in the greater scheme of things but I figured it was a good lead in into this as a way of saying that I dunno if there’s any expectations or baggage that would come with a Steve Skroce project like MAESTROS here, they didn’t even register with me. All I got with this book was a quirky and gorgeous and very adult comic book about the world of magic.

Usually with these review thingies I’d go straight from the introduction into some sort of quick summary of this book but, nah, we’re going to get right to the heart of the matter of MAESTROS and that is that this book looks fucking Aaaaaamazing. The shear amount of detail and the vibrancy of this book (thanks, in part, to the ever awesome Dave Stewart on colors) nearly rival Geoff Darrow’s output when we are graced with it about four times a year via SHAOLIN COWBOY. There are definitely some double page layouts that are very Darrow-esque in just how busy they are and the character and backdrop designs are gorgeous. I could recommend trying this book on visuals alone and not feel like I’m wasting your time and money, it just so happens it’s a pretty damn fun read as well.

Story wise, MAESTROS is essentially the most irreverent “wish fulfillment” story told of a person that grows up to find they’re a special and powerful. That’s where we come to find Willy Little, who as the book progresses we see goes the full, natural arc of chubby adolescent who finds out he’s basically descended from the first gods and becomes a career underachiever to the point where he’s using his “special gifts” to give oil tycoons Peter North level penis size for cash. Yeah, it’s that kind of book and I love it. Brutal, spectacularly rendered events have led to where Willy is the last of his line and needs to take up the mantle of the Maestro on the plane his father is from and really the cradle of reality as we know it, and we’re pretty much all fucked. Willy seems competent enough at the actual magical skill that you could buy him as decent wizard to be reckoned with, but he also seems like he’s every bit the slacker that someone who grew up in that age where I originally whiffed on Skroce’s work could aspire to become.

And like that generation that Willy would call home, the humor has a crassness mixed with self-deprecation that works well and carries the book. Like, not only is Willy selling magic dick elixir for a living but he also gets more or less stamped into oblivion by the forces that wasted his ancestor’s realm only to be saved by a timely appearance from his mother who survived the slaughter back home. Willy is so sad sack he gets the “you’re special” speech from his father in a flashback after walking in on his father giving his mom the business Kama Sutra style. He’s the kind of guy who talks to strippers about cabinetry. Savior of the universe he is not, so of course he’s what we have.

It works though, I think, because everything is taken to just the highest levels of ridiculousness to kind of laugh in the face of traditional stakes. Willy isn’t just the offspring of a powerful wizard; he’s the whelp of a line of magical beings that essentially created the universe. He’s not your The Magicians level of irreverent with his powers that Magic is an excuse to have frat orgies, he’s selling boners to rich schmucks. And the artwork pushes the envelope in many ways but particularly the detail. I dunno, overall MAESTROS just worked for me, but I can see how some people are going to probably see it as a bit “too low brow” or sexist because there’s a lot of naked ladies in this book who exist to be naked; though in one defense of it, Willy’s mom seems like a very strong and independent lady despite her fling with Willy’s dad in an era of “free love.” Overall I just found this book to be a visual feast that is a nice twist on the “chosen one” trope with a sense of humor that skewers itself as much as anything else and it entertained the hell out of me. I may have missed a solid two decades of Skroce until now, but this debut issue earned a lot of respect and admiration of the man’s skill set.

Humphrey Lee has been an avid comic book reader going on fifteen years now and a contributor to AICN COMICS and now at MLMILLERWRITES.COM. In fact, reading comics is about all he does in his free time and where all the money from his day job wages goes to – funding his comic book habit so he can talk about them to you, our loyal readers (lucky you). He’s a bit of a social networking whore, so you can find him all over the Interwebs on sites like Twitter, Facebookand a blog where he also mostly talks about comics with his free time because he hasn’t the slightest semblance of a life. Sad but true, and he gladly encourages you to add, read, and comment as you will.