Diving headfirst into a truly-imaginative, brilliantly-executed story like which inhabits Midas by author Ryan North (Squirrel Girl) and beloved illustrators Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb (One Day a Dot: The Story of You, The Universe, and Everything) with an equal touch (deliberately chosen word; you’ll see why soon) of menace and hilarity is one of life’s great pleasures.
Sporting the kind of epic narrative that cries out for equally magnificent artwork, which Midas, published on BOOM! Studios’ award-winning BOOM! Box imprint, answers and then some, this intensely-immersive story takes an age-old tale, that of King Midas who is best known as a ruler from Greek mythology with the ability to turn everything he touches to gold, and runs with it clear across the galaxy.
Midas is, by any measure, a spectacularly extraordinary story.
It takes the core point of the tale, which is that something that seems so appealing and exciting also carries a considerable sting in the tail, and spins it into a malevolent narrative that straddles intensely existential musings on life and death, good and evil and the nature of man.
Pretty heavy material right?
And yet for all its end-of-the-world vibes, Midas is also refreshingly, cheerily hilarious, a thoroughly compelling mix of sitcom and apocalyptic drama that works better than the statis fields which prove key to the way the story unfolds.
Key to the hilarity are the three main characters – Joey, who has the ship (The Prospect), the money and the captaincy, Fatima who is a brilliant navigator and pilot with a profound sense of integrity, and Cooper, a dinosaur who is a fugitive from his home planet which has been invaded and subjugated by the ruthlessly authoritarian federation.
Yes, lovers of Star Trek, in this world, the Federation is an altogether nasty beast which treats its citizens and soldiers as expendable resources, does not tolerate freedom of expression or self-determination and which takes over planets and their inhabitant civilisations with the sort of alacrity and thoughtlessness most people bring to getting their groceries.
They are, in every sense of the term, a Big Bad, and so it’s no wonder that Cooper and Fatima enlist an initially reluctant Joey to track down a rumoured super weapon which has the capability, if a bunch of old writings by a disillusioned, now-dead Federation general are to be believed, to strike a blow against the monolithic evil empire and set its captive citizens free.
This is where Midas, supremely cleverly comes into play.
In a backstory that never overstays its welcome but sets up the story to come elegantly and fully, we find out that Dionysus, god of wine (whose mother is Ananke, co-creator of the universe and the god of natural law) gives Midas his powers one drunken night, not even stopping to think what will result from such unthinking granting of wishes.
The results are, as you might suspect, not all that good, with Earth almost instantly turning into a solid ball of gold, killing everything and everyone, and creating a mystery so profound that the Federation chooses simply to surround it with satellites, erase it from star charts and pretend it doesn’t exist at all.
They may be evil but that was probably a better decision than that of Joey, Cooper and Fatima who journey to Earth to find the weapon that caused Earth to go gold and use it to hold the Federation to regime-changing ransom.
It’s a laudable, well-intentioned goal, reflecting Fatima’s inherent love and need for justice and Cooper’s need for some garden variety revenge, but it goes seriously off the rails (but of course it does), an opening of a justifiably sealed-off Pandora’s Box, the release of which contents proves to be every bit as awful and uncontrollable as the story of old.
Midas is, no matter you slice it, a vividly-engrossing re-imaging of a timeless mythological tale that captures your attention from the word go, thanks largely to its flawless balance of philosophical musing, political intrigue, Boys’ Own Adventure derring-do and the sheer delight of Joey, Fatima and Cooper who spring so perfectly and engagingly formed from the page that not liking them and their witty, clever banter is not even an option.
You hear me? Resistance is futile. (Yeah, yeah, I know, Star Trek again but it seems apt in this context, what with the Federation and all.)
That’s a good thing because it’s the chemistry between these three protagonists that adds much-needed levity and humanity to what is in many ways a fairly grim tale.
Even as you’re horrified time and again by what this humanised weapon can do, you are swept up in the way these three intrepid would-be revolutionaries handle each and every tense scene, laughing at their repartee, adoring their commitment to high-faluting principles while understanding their resorting to practical solutions that carry a fairly hefty moral price tag.
Ryan North delivers a narrative balancing act par excellence, keeping the horror, the political drama and the comedy in exemplary, taut tension, while the artwork of Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb draws you into the action in such a profoundly immersive way that you forget very quickly that you’re reading a graphic novel.
It feels very cinematic in look and scope, matching a story that is crying out to be splashed epically across the big screen; while there’s no doubt this would be a feature length treat, Midas as a graphic novel is a thing of narrative richness and artistic lushness that doesn’t need any kind of adaptation to tell its story any better.
It is, in so many ways, a near flawless exploration of how one man’s drunken greed, which is turned on its head later in the story which involves a slew of elements and directions you happily don’t see coming, becomes first a potential solution to ending authoritarian rule and then a nightmarish threat to all life (yeah, it gets that bad; OOPS) and then something altogether universe changing.
If that sounds like a lot of ground to cover, it is but North, Paroline and Lamb make it look easy, delivering in Midas a cautionary tale that is as funny as it is dramatic, as action-oriented as it is thoughtful and as human as it is galactically fantastical, a rare narrative treat that packs a lot in but never feels overwhelming in any way.
It is a near-perfect story, a skillful, utterly-engaging post-modern retelling of King Midas’s age-old tale that enthralls, delights and horrifies in equal measure, a towering reminder that good storytelling is very much still in vogue and as compelling as ever.