In the dreary depths of January, it’s important to pick a webcomic that’s a breezy, welcome distraction from the sunless days and skin-freezing windchill. OK, so I’m being a bit melodramatic, but Mildred Louis’ Agents of the Realm is nevertheless a warm, engrossing story that will banish your winter blues with its winning combination of fantasy action, heartwarming friendship, and well-timed humor. Shy Norah Tanner is in her freshman year of college and working at a shop selling knickknacks when she discovers a weird, glowing brooch on the sidewalk. The next day, that brooch comes in spectacularly handy when, as a translucent bear barrels toward her, she transforms into a snazzily dressed warrior with a powerful shield and sword.
That’s weird enough, but when her new roommate, Adele, also finds a brooch (and then their new friends Paige and Kendall do, too), Norah realizes she part of something much bigger. It turns out their college is on a dimensional rift, which has been the location for some serious conflict between realms. Long ago, a powerful gem maintained balance between the two worlds, but in a power struggle, it was shattered, becoming the amulets Norah and her friends have found, which are linked to similarly powered agents on the other side of the rift. That’s all well and good, but why did they find them all at the same time? And what exactly is linking the girls together?
Luckily, Norah and the other agents have a guide, Jade Blackwater, who fills them in on their new roles and and warns them of nearby creatures to battle. Jade has a villainous twin sister, Ruby, who happens to teach the mythology course all the girls are taking, and though it’s not yet clear what her intentions are, she has a serious interest in getting the amulets for herself, and Louis is definitely pushing her as a villain. Check out those menacing sound effects from Ruby’s glasses alone:
Of course, it’s not all as simple as a gang of magical girls fighting creatures from another dimension. There’s a fifth agent—Jordan—who’s been recruited by Ruby to enact her agenda, and she’s convinced the purple-haired teen that Jade is the evil one with a specious goal in mind. Meanwhile, Norah, Paige, Kendall, and Adele grow increasingly suspicious of Jade’s instructions and the ultimate consequences of their new powers. There’s a lot Jade is hiding from them, and they’re not content to sit idly by without knowing what they’re getting into, so they start to take matters into their own hands.
In the midst of all the magical creatures, enchanted amulets, and interdimensional travel, however, Louis’ comic is just as invested in the day-to-day lives of the girls, their friendships, and the obstacles they face living on their own for the first time. Each girl has a distinct character and personality, and their interactions are touching, funny, and totally compelling. Not only is her sense of comedic timing fantastic (as well as her bold color palette, fantastic attention to detail, and superb facial expressions), but Louis’ character design is refreshingly varied—all of her figures, even the background characters, have a wide range of shapes, skin tones, hair types, styles of dress, etc. It’s clear that she’s put a concerted effort into avoiding a cookie-cutter appearance for her cast, and she accomplishes that feat wonderfully.
There’s a lot more I haven’t covered—like a whole plotline developing among the agents living in the other realm, the effortlessly casual inclusion of diverse sexualities, the marvelously groan-worthy puns—but you’ll just have to trust me that it’s all worth checking out. Louis updates twice a week, and given how much of the story is on the horizon (including the follow-up to a spark-filled meet-cute, during which Norah is wearing a dinosaur costume), there’s sure to be plenty more to come.