The magical girls of Avalon

Kel McDonald’s Misfits of Avalon is the best thing to happen to the magical girl genre. The genre was started in Japan in the early ‘50s, and is still seriously popular in anime even now.

Misfits has four chapters, each from the perspective of a different, seriously flawed young woman: Morgan, Elsie, Kimber and Rae.

Kimber, the youngest, is 12 years old. The other three are in high school, which means that Kimber is treated to “shut up Kimber, you’re 12,” whenever she tries to express herself and bring up a topic she wants discussed.

But none of the four are perfect, or act in particularly wonderful ways. Which isn’t to say that they’re uninteresting or uselessly awful. Morgan and Elsie are so aggressive with each other that there’s no surprise when they wind up handcuffed in a police station.

When Morgan’s alcoholic dad claims he’ll pick her up eventually, Elsie and her brother wait with Morgan without any fuss. There’s not so much information about Rae yet, but as an intellectual she forces smiles and her internal monologue exposes some serious bookworm elitism. And there’s a real chance that she might hurt Kimber, who really looks up to her.

Misfits plays with the magical girl trope in that it is heavily steeped in Irish folklore, and the magical girl uniform is replete with tartan skirts and capes. One of the characters wears triquetra, or trinity knot earrings.

The girls’ powers come from magical rings that a sidhe, or fairy, gives them from Avalon. Each of them cast spells in Irish to fight monsters in the quest for a sword. As far as the magical girl genre goes, it’s all very by-the-book.

Each ring gives the girls a power that’s associated with a different element, like wind, clay, fire and water. Even their magical girl outfits have elements of animals that are associated with those elements: bird wings on Morgan’s shoes for wind, bull horns on Elsie’s headband for clay, cat paws and ears for Kimber’s fire, and fins on Rae’s headband and shoes for water.

Misfits can be found in the all-ages section of comic shops, but it doesn’t belong there. Having a largely female cast does not essentially mean that it’s only for little girls. Dark Horse, the publisher, says the age range is 14, which is probably more appropriate.

Misfits reminds me of why I am forever grateful that I’m not a teenager anymore. McDonald’s protagonists, especially Morgan and Elsie, are filled with directionless rage.

But there’s also female friendships and rivalries, and even though her characters are sometimes a little too obvious, they’re still three-dimensional and complicated and their own persons.

Misfits of Avalon is plainly a good book, and something to support. Sometimes finding media in which even half of the main characters are women is more of a strategic hunt than a lazy scan of a store shelf.

To boot, Misfits is intersectional, too. Despite its Irish themes, neither Morgan nor Kimber is white. Kimber has a Mohawk made of dreads despite her mother’s disapproval, and even the sidhe from Avalon is non-white. Volume two is out in the spring of 2016, and my breath will be thoroughly bated until then.