Walking sunflowers who curse, talking sword hilts, strippers who mutate into venus flytraps, elves, and horned gods are just a sampling of what you’ll encounter within the pages of Maestros (Image). Written and illustrated by Steve Skroce (We Stand On Guard, Wolverine), colors by Dave Stewart (Hellboy, Star Wars), there are varying levels of weirdness, and then there is Maestros. With a little bit of Lovecraft and Tolkien to boot, and you have one hell of a magical mystery tour.
Skroce is not one to get intimidated by the oddities of Maestros, as this isn’t Skroce’s first rodeo working within the walls of madness. In 1993 Skroce illustrated Clive Barker’s Ektoid (Marvel) series, and with Alan Moore on Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood. Not to be pigeon-holed, Skroce also loaned his talents to the film industry by storyboarding for movies such as The Matrix trilogy, I, Robot, V for Vendetta, Speed Racer, Ninja Assassin, Cloud Atlas, and Jupiter Ascending. In fact, Maestros has some of the same DNA as Jupiter Ascending in that it’s chock full of vivid, imaginative images, but to that, it adds adult entertainment, apathetic wizardry and bountiful amounts of carnage.
Skroce’s writing is accessible and straightforward, which is welcome when deciphering the visuals. It’s as if the writing and plot offsets the bizarre visuals. Will, who is half human/half god, along with his mortal mother Margaret, were banned from Zainon by his god-like father, Meethra Kahzar. Who by the way, gets the ax at the beginning of the first issue at the hand of god-slayer Mardok. Once notified of her husband’s murder, Margaret locates her son in a strip club selling magic elixirs to “rich dicks that never got enough hugs,” all the while auditing a women's studies class. With Meethra and his entire royal family dead, Will is called back to take his father’s place.
I think too many reviews are content with the writer creating “well-rounded characters” or “strong story arc’s” or a multitude of other cliched descriptions. In my opinion, if you’re a writer you should be able to accomplish these things. But as a writer, if you’re ready to make me not care that I’m reading a comic book and make me focus on the story or the characters involved, then you deserve praise for writing a good story. I’m afraid that’s where Maestros falls short for me.
All those descriptions are what reviewers say when you have nothing else to offer or when you’re struggling to find something that stands out. I can appreciate the irreverent earthly humor Skroce incorporates in a distinct fantasy/magical setting, but that’s been done. Perhaps it could’ve worked better if WIll was a more interesting character--someone who used that humor to cover up something he didn’t want the world to know. Speaking of “been done,” the father/son plotline has been beaten to death, even Homer is getting tired of it. Meethra, the egotistical, powerful, all-knowing father dies, and the stay at home mom recruits her loser/slacker 20-something son to take his place. Oh! Don’t forget the love interest! Add some adult themes and blood & guts, and there you have Maestros in a nutshell.
One could argue that I am only at the surface, that I am not looking deeper. Okay, give me a reason I should. Yes, Will isn’t a reluctant hero--he wants to learn magic and take his father’s place on the throne. Yes, there’s more to lose when you're presiding over an entire universe that your granddad created. If Skroce is going to create this world of magic and gods, then it deserves more than a 2-page spread. I wonder if it would’ve served the story better to have the history of the universe in a glossary and have the characters play out the story instead of telling us what happened in the very first issue.
Skroce’s strengths lay with the art. The levels of imagination are limitless. Creating such a vast array of weird characters is no easy feat, and Skroce does this without breaking a sweat. Every bit of every page gets used to its fullest capacity. If some of the writing were cut back and used more efficiently, it would give the story an element of drama combined that with the humor. The art is carrying the load here.
If you're looking for stronger writing, I would advise looking elsewhere. Maestros 1-3 are available now with issue 4 releasing January 24, 2018.