Mirror: The Mountain
Since I started reading graphic novels in college (more than a decade ago now), I’ve noticed a change in the perception of them and yet, they still remain one of the more undervalued genres in literature. There’s long been an assumption that graphic novels are just silly superhero stories, fun to read maybe but not challenging either intellectually or spiritually. Not like a “real” book. While I’d argue that the status of superhero stories as “silly” and having no inherent value other than entertainment is patently false, there are some great non-superhero graphic novel stories that question human nature itself in such a way as to stick with you long after you’re done reading them. This week, I’ll be talking about a recent graphic novel, Mirror: The Mountain, which uses a beautiful medley of science fiction and fantasy to make readers question the worth of humanity and the line between us and the beasts. The first arc of five issues of the series was published in late 2016 and the second arc was just released yesterday. The series is published by Image Comics, written by Emma Rios and illustrated by Hwei Lim.
Mirror: The Mountain is about a small human colony on an asteroid which has been terraformed by the humans as they had fled from war. The asteroid is all that is left of what was once a lush, fully formed world. In order to test the asteroid’s ability to support life, a series of animals were sent to the asteroid before the colony was set up. These animals not only survived but gained sentience and have existed in a space somewhere between mute beasts and the human mage-scientists of The Synchronia who now study them to try to solve the mystery of the asteroid. The head mage-scientist, Kazbek, desperately wants to prove knowledge that will allow him to go home and the young mage-scientist Ivan tries to find the courage to bridge the gap between the mage-scientists and the animals that they both create and experiment on. Desperate to find a solution, Ivan sends a group of animals out to speak with the Guardians who care for the asteroid in order to prevent Kazbek from experimenting further on them. Each of them, both human and animal and all those in between, must struggle with their own demons in order to survive and understand the power of the asteroid and what it intends for them.
Mirror: The Mountain isn’t a straight forward story. It jumps around from the events which originally brought the humans to the asteroid, the rebellion of the animals being experimented on and the present day in a way which isn’t too confusing but definitely forces readers to pay close attention. The experiments really question how much empathy humans have if they’re willing to experiment on animals for knowledge and ambition and how much these experiments are human and how much they are animal now that they’re somewhere in between. It’s a study of human nature, empathy, courage, ambition and knowledge rolled into a compelling fantasy story that reminds me very much of Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. Alongside the introspective nature of the story, the art by Hwei Lim is downright gorgeous. Many of the scenes have an impressionist watercolor feel to them and they are filled with gorgeous, lively color that really brings the story to life. Story and art are very well entwined, as only graphic novels can accomplish, to create a story that is extremely difficult to put down even if you struggle to keep up as I occasionally did.
Mirror: The Mountain is a series that I’d highly recommend for anyone who wants more than just a fast, fun read in their graphic novels. The unfortunate tendency is to assume that that is all the graphic novels provide when the truth is far from it. This series is living, fantastical proof of that. It makes readers question human nature and intention in regards to the living things around them and provides much more introspection both during and after than I had expected, even for an indie story. And that art…I’d recommend picking it up just for that alone. Mirror: The Mountain impressed me and is certainly a series that I’ll be keeping an eye on in the future.