REVIEW: Mystik U #2 (Bad Romance)

Time is running out for the professors of Mystik U to figure out who the great Malevolence is linked to, and a difference of ideologies between Dr. Occult and Rose Psychic doesn’t help. Meanwhile, a lost and struggling Zatanna tries to pursue a romance with Sebastian Faust while being courted by a sorority who may not have her best interests at heart.

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MYSTIK U: #1
Author: Alisa Kwitney
Artist:  Mike Norton
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Deron Bennett
Cover Artist: Julian Totino Tedesco
Editor: Alex Antone
Publisher: DC Comics

 

What You Need To Know:

The second issue in a prestige-format mini-series set outside of main DC Comics continuity, this issue follows the lives of the freshman class at Mystik U. One of the six students – Zatanna Zatara, Sebastian Faust, the Enchantress, Sargon the Sorcerer, Pia Morales, or Plop – is linked to an evil entity called the Malevolence, who will one day in the future take out most of the world’s magic users. The teachers are trying to figure out who is connected to the Malevolence so that they can stop it from happening early on. The rest of the students, meanwhile, are more concerned with learning about magic, making friends and, in the cases of Zatanna and Sargon, pursuing romances with their classmates.

 

What You’ll Find Out:

Rose Psychic has been having nightmares, both about the Malevolence and about Mr. E fulfilling his threat to kill the new freshman class at Mystik U to stop the Malevolence from ever happening. When she wakes up from her nightmares, she’s confronted by Dr. Occult – the being she shares a body with – and is told that her dreams are warnings. Time is running out, and they must figure out who the Malevolence is and Dr. Occult has a way, but Rose must relinquish control to him for the time being. Reluctantly, she cedes control to him, with the assurance that he will not harm any of the students.

Meanwhile, Zatanna – who feels more comfortable practicing magic in her magician’s costume – is failing miserably in trying to open a magical portal under Mr. E’s tutelage. Given that she has magical heritage on both of her parents’ sides, this should be a cakewalk for her, but something seems to be holding her back. Still, Mr. E shows her how to open a portal, and when he does, they spot a top hat by itself. Mr. E closes the portal before she can investigate to see if it’s her father who was at that portal, but Mr. E tells her that it’s not her father who needs help, it’s Zatanna. Magick is more than just stage tricks, and she needs to work on mastering her powers.

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Upset, Zatanna leaves to go to her class with Dr. Occult, who wants them to join hands and invoke an elemental force. While the students worry about how they’re going to do that – they each have their own approach to magic and not a single one of them has studied how to do this – and which elemental force they’re going to call, Dr. Occult tells them that they only need to think about what they want most in the world. The elemental force they call, well. That will be a surprise.

And what a surprise it is! Once the students are able to clear their minds enough for the exercise to work, they call on the one thing that only Dr. Occult was hoping would appear – the Malevolence. While the students falter under its evil presence – Sebastian Faust seems to be the only one not cowed by its overwhelmingly evil presence – Dr. Occult attempts to coerce the Malevolence’s true face and name from it. Zatanna breaks the circle before Dr. Occult can get his questions answered. The only thing he knows for sure is that the Malevolence is one of the students.

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Zatanna attempts to apologize to Dr. Occult, but Dr. Occult is a harder, less reassuring personality than Rose Psychic, and does nothing to reassure Zatanna. In turn, Zatanna approaches Sebastian for help, but Sebastian tells Zatanna she wouldn’t like his method…right before bumping into Plop, scattering his papers everywhere. Papers which have many drawings of Zatanna on them. Clearly, he likes her, and Zatanna seems like she might be happy about that development.

Later, Zatanna is having a difficult time with her magical homework – she really seems to be having a difficult time in general, which is par for the course when you accidentally banished your dad to hell  – when an invitation carried by a swarm of bees arrives. A sorority called the Thriae Society has invited her to their informal rush gala that night. While Zatanna can’t understand why she got an invite, Pia rightly guesses that it’s because of Zatanna’s celebrity status. Zatanna, not wanting to leave her friends out of this, invites them to go with her.

The sorority sisters are definitely not to be trusted. After introducing themselves to Zatanna and her friends, the sisters – Queen Bee Melissa, Artemis, and Deborah – confer and while they agree that there can only be one Queen (aka most definitely Melissa), they also know that they can use Zatanna for publicity, and since when has publicity ever been a bad thing?

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The party starts off awkwardly for our main six, until Melissa offers Zatanna a drink called Rakmelion, aka the nectar of the gods. A drink that tastes like cereal with honey and spice, it’s meant to unlock Zatanna’s potential, which is something she definitely feels she needs. In about ten minutes, it definitely does unlock something in Zatanna. She pulls a very reluctant Sebastian to dance with her, and when flirting the normal way doesn’t get Zatanna what she wants, she pulls her first dubious move of the issue. She uses her powers to get Sebastian to open up a little. He does, and immediately realizes he was enchanted to do so by Zatanna. Angrily, he leaves.

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Meanwhile, in the background, designated beta couple Enchantress and Sargon seem to be having a spat of their own, when he tells June that he prefers her to the Enchantress persona. Given that the night has gone off the rails, Zatanna and Pia leave the party with the others, leaving the Thriae Society to wait patiently for Zatanna to eventually return to them.

The next morning continues Zatanna’s academic downward spiral, and when Melissa comes to catch up with her, Zatanna quickly ditches her friends to spend time with her new acquaintance. When Zatanna tells her that she probably overindulged in Rakmelion, Melissa explains that the reason it made her feel off wasn’t that she had too much, it was because the nectar didn’t have any of Zatanna in it, so she was basically walking in shoes that were custom made for someone else. Then, she pricks Zatanna’s finger and mixes her blood into a bottle of Rakmelion. She gives Zatanna the bottle as a parting gift while making her an official initiate to the Thriae Society.

Quickly, Zatanna develops a dependency on the Rakmelion. Now that it’s got a part of her in it and is calibrated to her specific desires, magical tasks like opening a portal with Mr. E aren’t so difficult anymore. Rose Psychic knows what she’s up to, and expects better of Zatanna, but before she can intervene, Dr. Occult confronts her again, telling her that she’s become too sentimentally attached. He then wrests control away from Rose, this time without permission, and promises to take care of their problems.

In a short interlude, Pia visits Plop, who has been feeling down because of his repulsive form. He is, after all, a sentient glob of phlegm, blood, and other unsavory things pulled from a college dorm bathroom. Pia has an idea, though, and later on, we see him in a more humanoid form, wearing a sweater, chinos, and a hat, sharing a meal with his friends.

A meal that’s not going too well, unfortunately. Pia calls Zatanna out on her getting help from the Thriae Society, and points out that the sorority probably wants something from her, and aren’t her real friends. Zatanna goes on the defensive, telling Pia how difficult it has been for her because magic seems to be very easy for them, while for her, it’s been a struggle. She calls out Sebastian Faust in specific, given that he’s the other celebrity student, but soon learns that Sebastian’s got a more tragic story, one involving the death of his mother by Sebastian. Zatanna goes to apologize, and once again breaches the topic of their relationship by trying to reassure Sebastian that she can protect herself against his powers. This leads to a fight where Sebastian reveals what happens to himself when he lets go and gives in to his emotions, revealing a demon form.

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Later, Zatanna fumes over her issues with Sebastian when Pia points out that she’s not hearing Sebastian or paying attention to his wants and needs. Rightly, she implies that if the tables were turned, Zatanna wouldn’t feel that great either. Feeling angry and not at all supported, Zatanna decides she’s going to see if she can move into the sorority earlier than she had planned. As she leaves, Enchantress appears, also having had problems with Sargon.

Sebastian returns to the room he shares with Sargon, which has been completely trashed. We discover that Enchantress had a fight in the room, and Sargon reveals that his magic Ruby of Life isn’t just a magical ornament on his turban – the gem is actually burning a crater into his forehead.

When Zatanna comes to Thriae House to move in, she has initially turned away, but Melissa has a change of heart and makes a special exception for Zatanna, allowing her to take her final vows that night, so that she may become a full member of the sorority. Of course, that’s when things take an ugly turn and Zatanna realizes that to become an initiate, she needs to be stung with bee venom to fully become one of them and that the sorority is literally a hive. When Zatanna tries to get out of the initiation, the sisters hold her down and get ready to feed off of her instead of making her one of them.

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While she’s in peril, Sebastian Faust is visited by an image of his father, made of some sort of red liquid that could possibly be blood. Uncomfortable, given that Sebastian hates his father and is in the middle of taking what otherwise might have been a relaxing shower. Felix intimates that he’s there to help Sebastian and that he’s figured out how to take away the burden of Felix’s powers away from him. Sebastian refuses the offer and sends the image of Felix away…only to have the red liquid spell out the words “Help Me.”

Back at Thriae House, the sorority sisters tell Zatanna their plans for mixing her blood with their honey and drinking her up, only to be interrupted by Sebastian, Sargon, Pia, Enchantress, and Plop. They fight the sorority sisters, and June comes into her own as Enchantress, switching into the other persona through supernatural means instead of through make-up and hair dye. It’s a breakthrough for her.

A far worse breakthrough is the one where Zatanna and Pia join forces and powers and call upon the Malevolence to defeat the Thriae Society. When asked what they’ve done, the Malevolence informs them that they have fulfilled a destiny. The sisters leave our main six with haunting words, claiming that Pia and Zatanna have doomed them all.

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Zatanna, seemingly unfazed by those words of doom, later visits Sebastian, and once again uses her magic to influence him, forcing him to let her into his room. They discuss why Sebastian was the one to have heard her plea for help, and which one of them might be stronger. She takes his glasses – the ones that protect anyone from his death sight – off of him and moves in for a kiss.

Enchantress, Pia, and Plop hang out in the girls’ dorm room, discussing the events of the night at the sorority house when they hear a scream. When they go to investigate, they find out that Sebastian has killed Zatanna.

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What Just Happened:

Nothing. Good. For starters, it does seem like Zatanna has been tempting fate the whole issue, what with her trying to force a relationship with Sebastian Faust and using terrible shortcuts to use magic. It’s interesting to see magic be a thing that Zatanna struggles with, given that in other incarnations, she’s usually one of the characters who uses it the most effortlessly. Alisa Kwitney also seems to be drawing on some previous versions of Zatanna here – specifically Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis storyline – to show that Zatanna uses her power to influence people’s minds. It’s not great, and it definitely goes some way in making Zatanna an unsympathetic protagonist, but that’s not a bad thing. It gives her something to fight against, and we’ll perhaps see some eventual character development where she learns it’s not good to use her powers to influence people’s minds and thoughts.

The book continues its parallels to other fictional works involving teenagers and young adults with magic, and while the plot twists this time were a little easier to figure out that they were in the first issue, Kwitney still manages to pull them off with a freshness. It’s no doubt that this book is a CW-esque take on the magical side of the DCU, and Zatanna’s issues with the Rakmelion and abuse of magic very much echo those of Willow Rosenberg from season six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, albeit to slightly less disastrous results. Zatanna hasn’t turned into a malevolent force yet but…it does certainly seem to be going that way, doesn’t it?

Alisa Kwitney and Mike Norton continue to do a stellar job on writing and art. Kwitney has a real feel for the magical side of the DCU and manages to give all of the characters a distinct voice, as well as a distinct point of view, and a distinct magical style. None of the students view the world the same way, and the way they view, see, and use magic is different from one student to the other, and it works. Jordie Bellaire’s colors are spot-on, appropriately realistic and subdued when the students are dealing with more mundane things, and either perfectly bright or ambiguously muddied depending what sort of magic is being used in any given scene.

Rating: 8/10

Final Thoughts: This second issue of Mystik U is a solid, if somewhat predictable, installment. The characters and their relationships are at the core of this book, and Kwitney manages to write them wonderfully and realistically. This book continues to feel more like a special event than just a mere mini-series, and it’ll be exciting to see just how all of this plays out, and who the Malevolence may end up being.

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