Page 45 Review by Stephen
What an ending!
Here's a prediction: the first three or four pages will utterly confound you and the title itself may put you off but then it is rather misleading.
Please, please don't be dissuaded, for this pays big comedy dividends once you're within.
It's certainly a very different beast to the Tamaki cousins' THIS ONE SUMMER and SKIM in form, tone and content except that in some ways it's not: it's all-inclusive, has a heart of gold and fiercely astute at observing and understanding the behaviour of young teens: how they treat each other or what they're really thinking.
But. This is a comedy! It's a wickedly clever comedy too, so many of the final panels of the one-page gag strips up-ending the five that have preceded it with a whiplash reversal. As such it's as likely to appeal to fans of CYANIDE & HAPPINESS for who knew that Jillian was so naughty? Who knew she was such a comedian?
As I first read it I wondered if a longer-form narrative might eventually emerge and sure enough it does, centred on deadpan Marsha's hilarious hidden crush on Wendy. I was going to attempt to transcribe The Hairbrush incident but I've found the actual page so see below or to your right if you're reading this in the book's product page. Brilliant!
Wendy is super-lovely, kind of heart and going out with Adam. On one page they make out, Adam asking if Wendy would be put off if she found out he was a robot. No, she says; and no, he wouldn't be either if he found out Wendy was a robot, he promises. "Sentient robots are so hot, Wendy", he says.
Wendy considers this for a panel while looking at the reader before uttering, "Beep, boop, beep, beep..."
So let us address the title SUPERMUTANT MAGIC ACADEMY and really there is very little here which is about being a supermutant. Some of the protagonists - but only some of them - just look a little different. Wendy, for example, has cat ears. Not cosplay cat ears but actual cat ears. Another student is a hammerhead shark. Most of them, however, are completely human although Ethan (we only learn later) is Ethan The Everlasting Boy. Which retroactively explains why in one strip a tree has grown round him! There's no hand-holding whatsoever which is why a second read-through is even funnier.
It is all so, so deadpan and I think Frances the curly-haired, precocious / pretentious performance artist may be the funniest of all. There's a scene which she films as director, the first (and last, screaming) character wearing bunny ears and a medieval Plague Doctor mask, carrying an alarm clock on the end of a stick which is a cacophony of "MOTHER" tick tock and "father" tick tock before a rat nibbles seeds and "SCREEEECH" tick tock tick tock tick tock.
Pull back to Frances in her director's chair:
"Cut! Print it. Excellent."
Excellent indeed! I have no idea how Tamaki thinks of these things! There's one strip which does touch on what the academy does and who tends to attend. It involves a session in which practising magic turns into the tragic. The pupil changes his form by invoking its desired Latin name. First he becomes a bear. Then he becomes a penguin. But when asked to turn himself into a butterfly he fumbles the ball and so turns into one. Footballs don't have mouths. He is consigned to a cart full of other footballs destined forever to be kicked about during the school's P.E. classes. One suspects the other soccer balls were students with similar slip-ups.
This is empathically not the slick and sumptuous art you have come to expect from THIS ONE SUMMER which is once more why this might baffle you to begin with. Don't worry about that. Really. This was originally a webcomic and I suspect that Tamaki just did what it took to meet her own deadline because that's a big thing with webcomics. A lot of it is shorthand but not once does it fail the story she's seeking to tell.
And I know a lot of this is quotations, but when a comic's this comedic then the dialogue speaks for itself. It's its selling point. Here we're talking the role playing game of Dungeons & Dragons as a young man defends the pastime and his involvement:
"D&D is actually a very sophisticated role-playing game. While it may appear as merely an indulgence in Tolkien fantasy tropes, it is actually an epic, open-ended exploration of free form group storytelling, strategy, psychological warfare, and moral truth in a shared imagined space."
"You've encountered a female dire-waveryn on the trail."
"Does it have a vagina?"
"What do I need on this roll to have sex with the dire-waveryn?"
Contains the best metaphor for leaving school, ever. Just when you think you've got one life licked, you have to move on to another.