Archive Binge: Never Satisfied
From a broader cultural perspective, Never Satisfied by Taylor Robin is really fascinating. It combines many different specific elements that are common in Young Adult fantasy with the kind of ensemble cast that really only work in the wide-open spaces of web-comics or epic fantasy.
The story revolves around a competition between the young up and coming magicians of a city to be its new protector. Each week the young wizards compete in different challenges and one of them is eliminated, with the intention of leaving only the strongest to defend the city from the mysterious threat of the Husks. Life in the city itself seems to be relatively idyllic for the characters with all of the drama and pain routed in political and interpersonal conflict. Outside of the city where the Husks roam freely there is obviously a whole other kind of crisis going on, all of which is being set up with painstaking care in these early pages.
The specific YA fantasy tropes that are a great fit for the comic format include talking animal familiars that are specific to each wizard, colour coded magic relating to the type of magic that each wizard wields and gemstones that are worn as aids to magical power, which provide lovely visuals in addition to the story possibilities of them being stolen to render a wizard weaker, or to force them to prove their undisclosed inner power at a later date.
There is an interesting approach taken to magic in the comic. People with no magic seem to be treated as second-class citizens within the city and there is definitely a scale of power between the different young wizards, with some of them able to perform magic with practically no gems to assist them, and others who need to be laden with them. An argument could be made that this is meant to represent the way that copious wealth eases the need for excellence, but the lack of magical power seems to be genetically determined too, so that creates a whole other conundrum if you are going looking for a deeper meaning to the pretty colours flashing around on the page.
One of the young wizards, Lucy, seems to be completely devoid of magical ability, wearing only coloured glass jewellery and relying on her familiar to do all of the heavy lifting, but it is difficult to discuss them without spoiling the beautiful slow burn of their story. At the other end of the magical scale are the Husks, people who have been completely consumed by magic and lost all control over it. So while magical power is the most beloved thing in the city it is also the root of their greatest fears, unbound power. Magic as a metaphor for societal power is hardly a new idea but, like all of the other old ideas that are recycled and rejuvenated in Never Satisfied, the fresh perspective grants it new relevance.
Never Satisfied is still quite early in its story arc with the major events and conflicts of the later story only just starting to develop, but it is beautifully drawn, excellently written and the characterisation would have been strong enough to carry the whole thing even if that were not so.