Not all magical girls blossom in high school. For some, the android beetle calls when you’re in college, meaning you now have to make time to save the universe in between studying for midterms, struggling with relationships, and finding your true self in the most volatile years of your life. In Agents of the Realm, a joyfully empowering comic currently working with Kickstarter to fund its first volume in print, all these subjects and more are tackled in a tightly focussed, action packed story of magical warriors caught up in a struggle between two worlds.
Agents of the Realm is a webcomic created by Mildred Louis in March of 2014. The comic builds on the mythology and tropes of Japanese “Magical Girl” fantasy stories like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura while making changes to suit its own lore and suitably adult themes. It tells the story of five girls: Norah, Adele, Kendall, Paige, and Jordan, who find themselves selected by fate to be agents (chosen warriors and protectors of an ancient order) while attending the fictional Silvermount University in their freshman year. While at first they believe they’ve been tasked to fight bleeds (monsters from another realm) they soon find out that’s not the whole story. The truth is far more sinister, personal, and complicated than any of them initially imagine. Throw in a mentor from another dimension and her twin evil sister who also happens to be the girls’ Intro to Mythology teacher, and you have yourself a story that is truly unique.
What makes this comic great is its diverse group of female leads who drive the story forward. The women of this comic are all intelligent, verified badasses with lives, styles, and fully formed personalities of their own. Norah, for example, is a reluctant hero and leader. A sword wielder, psych major, and protagonist of the story. Many panels of the comic suggest she would honestly rather be alone in her dorm room watching a horror movie than leading the charge of a team of warriors. These subversions of the conventions inherent in magical girl stories add to Agents of the Realm’s charm.
As the story progresses, the women meet their fellow agents the way we all meet people in our college years: through being forced to spend time together in dorm rooms, forced to spend time together in group projects, or forced to actually find fun together in lacklustre RA-led events. At the beginning of the story, each chapter focuses on the discovery a different agent, giving an opportunity to spend time with each of the main characters and resolve some sort of conflict between them before initiating them into the group and building a genuine bond. This bond between the girls is specifically important and intentional as a foundation of the comic itself. As Louis states:
“Agents of the Realm is a story geared towards being inclusive and providing young women of color a chance to see themselves as the heroes of their own story. With a heavy focus on friendship, it aims to remind people of the importance of surrounding yourself with positive influences – and the unrivaled strength that comes from that.”
With really no male central characters within the series, Agents of the Realm prioritizes these girls acting on their own agency. It’s a female-centric story, with female characters and issues being addressed from the female perspective. As a male reader, did I have problems relating to the characters or story? No! And honestly, it’s refreshing not to be catered to. Because it’s a great story that hasn’t been overtold. Apart from initial conflicts, the women in this story genuinely support and look out for each other through generational transitions, abusive mentors, insecurities, and the day-to-day struggles of campus life. It’s important for everyone to have stories where they can see themselves in the characters. I’d love to hope my experience is true for other readers as I can only speculate how important this must be for girls to see strongly positive role models for themselves within this comic.
They also kick a ton of ass. Mildred Louis draws action like a boss and frequently treats the reader to some seriously awesome monster designs with the bleeds. Fight sequences usually occur once per chapter and feature the college girls fighting in lethal combat with swords, bows and arrows, or my personal favourite: Kendall’s mammoth-sized hammer.
The art of Agents of the Realm showcases bright, clean graphics with colour coding helping the reader identify key objects and characters within the work. Backgrounds are largely minimalist (Hey, it’s a University. What did you expect other than bare concrete?) and serve to highlight the excellent work Mildred Louis has put into both character design and expression. Each character in the story is visually distinct, both in and out of ‘costume’, by virtue of the various body types, skin, and hair colours showcased by the central characters that contributes both to readers identification with the characters and maintaining clarity through frantic action sequences.
Lettering is also clear and distinct. Every character speaks in their own assigned colour, giving Louis more freedom to move dialogue bubbles around or place speaking characters off-panel without the reader becoming confused about who’s talking on any given page. The colourful work ensures that the rainbow of colours for dialogue in multi-character scenes doesn’t get distracting and fits naturally within the page.
The Kickstarter for Agents of the Realm raises funds to publish the first volume as a beautiful 8×10 full colour softcover book which will collect the nearly 300 pages of the comic in print for the first time. Backers can pledge as little as $15 to receive the book digitally, or $30 for one of the beautiful physical editions. If funds are raised above $50,000, a hardcover of the book will be made available for backers above the $50 level, along with other completely awesome swag like postcards, prints, and metal pins.
This is a great comic. The story takes liberties with the conventions of magical girl adventures while still remembering what gives the genre its heart. It stands tall as an empowering work of fantasy with a modern sensibility, especially for women and young girls of colour. Whether you’re a hardcore Sailor Moon nerd or just curious about these kinds of stories, you should support this work. It is very readable and accessible to anyone with an interest. If you want to contribute to the Kickstarter, you’ll need to make a pledge to this project before March 2nd to help support this comic when it matters most. I’m not saying the fate of two universes hangs in the balance here, but… well… better safe than sorry.
Originally posted on February 16, 2016 on Talking Comics