A comic focused on witchcraft created by top comics talents published by Image and released in October. First Wytches in 2014 and now Black Magick in 2015. While this is certainly just a coincidence, it’s one that I hope becomes a pattern because it has now resulted in fantastic new series debuts for two years running.
Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott have teamed up to tell the story of Rowan Black, a Portsmouth, Oregon detective and practitioner of the occult arts. She is a classic Rucka heroine filling a similar mold of Renee Montoya or Stetko, with a brash personality,ready to kick ass and playing the outsider in all of her roles. Detective Black may bear a resemblance to these other women, but she is certainly her own woman. Even within the 28 pages of Black Magick #1, Rucka and Scott define her as someone torn between responsibilities of two worlds, unwilling to completely surrender her own identity to either.
Black is an intriguing character, but the hook of Black Magick #1 can be found in its taut, self-contained story. Rucka weaves his script between Black’s life as a witch and her profession as a detective with two late-night events. The core action of the issue reads like a simple hostage case, but it also serves as an excellent depiction of character in action and worldbuilding. If this were the only issue to ever be released, it would read well on its own but also leave many hungering for more.
That’s a difficult trick to pull off in a first issue and it comes from the depth of the world created by Rucka and Scott. Scott casually includes seemingly significant details throughout the story. A variety of robes and garb along with select tattoos reveal the thought put into the supernatural elements of the story. Everything seems to serve a purpose, even if it does not directly pertain to the plot. Rucka’s familiarity with crime stories also makes for a very tense showdown in the second half of the issue, capably utilizing police procedure to make the story feel real and create a very real threat. There is an obvious hook in the very last panel of the issue, but it’s really the world of Black Magick built throughout this issue that will bring readers back.
Scott’s black and white art works beautifully throughout the single night this story takes place in. She layers the world in rich shadows, which bring out both the best in both supernatural and procedural elements. It’s not just that occult rituals feel more potent at night, but that the lighting created with stark whites juxtaposed against the dark really make police lights appear alarming. Scott doesn’t rely on genre to tell the story for her though. In spite of the obvious horror-crime mashup, there’s a very real human look to Black Magick #1 that can be found in her characters. Black, the leader of her clan, and the man she confronts are all unique individuals with easily recognized expressions. Taken out of the context of this comic and they could be the person standing behind you at the supermarket, making the events of Black Magick feel more personal.
There is a small amount of color included by Scott. Small flourishes of red are very effective in building tension and drawing focus to a specific character’s state of mind. The use of color is dramatically altered in the climax of the issue though. It’s such a dramatic change from the subtle touches found earlier that it renders the shock of the moment itself almost inert. While the very limited palette seems like something that can be made effective within the series, it is also likely to be an instance where less is more.
Black Magick #1 is a top-notch debut from Image, the most inventive publisher in comics today. It delivers on character, premise, artwork, and ideas, a comic that can satisfy any reader looking for a great crime or horror story. Wherever the mysteries of this debut lead Detective Rowan Black, it’s bound to be a satisfying read.