Mirror: The Mountain by Emma Ríos and Hwei Lim graphic novel review

Take a trip into a strange new world with Mirror

A terrorist dog, a helpful mouse, conspiring mages and a mystic sphinx – this comic is as elusive and revealing as its reflective namesake. Spanish artist Emma Ríos (Pretty Deadly) here takes the writing reins, while Malaysian newcomer Hwei Lim puts her delightfully expressionist watercolours to task unravelling this science-fantasy world.

The Irzah colony is home to mages, magic and science, as well as sentient animals anthropomorphised to various degrees. Sena, the girl-dog who was once fully dog, is the best friend of young mage Ivan. Fearful for Sena’s future under increasing experimentation, the two attempt to flee the citadel as children in the past, while their lives grow ever further distant in the present.

A war between humans and animals is in full flow, but with exposition given solely through the array of character voices, the sweeping romanticism of the narrative is deliciously obfuscated. The hidden information is revealed little by little as the plot unwinds in non-linear fashion, resulting in a story that places all emphasis on emotion and the moment rather than a simple progression from A to B.

Visually innovative and rewarding, Lim’s art echoes this storytelling choice by taking an experimental approach. Architecturally inspired, page layouts take the form of buildings and stained-glass windows; the gutters between panels bend and slice to form the alien structure of the citadel and the bars upon a cage. Characters tumble from one panel to another, hoisting themselves up by the white space traditionally left empty. Lim sees the rules of sequential storytelling and breaks them, mirroring the unique unwinding of plot and scorning the traditional eye.

Triumphantly, the comic remains entirely accessible, with the reader never feeling lost upon the page, unsure of where to travel next. All questions and mysteries are by storytelling design, never artistic flaw. At the end of each chapter, a short two-page interlude can be found where the creators momentarily switch roles – Ríos visually adapting the script of Lim to further reveal the true machinations of what transpired before. The change in style is obvious, removing the possibility of reader confusion and providing an intriguing look at how well these two share their collaborative spirit.

Inspired in part by Osamu Tezuka’s Ode To Kirihito and HG Wells’ The Island Of Doctor Moreau, Mirror is a tale of identity, acceptance and the questions of freedom of choice and whether sentience demands cruelty for those beneath. Despite the opening chapter laying bare the barbarity of the humans and desperation of the animals, there is no good or evil here – who can tell what side of the mirror to take? The uncertainty that lies there builds with each new piece of information and the revelations that spin the story around.

Ríos and Lim have already planned a second arc, with hopefully many more to come. As unique and avant-garde as Mirror is, above all it is greatly endearing.