Blackwood #1 shows the first days of the new freshman class at Blackwood College, a small New England college with a "liberal and esoteric arts program." While the school's official programs include the studies of cults and witches' lore, it's quickly obvious that something's not right -- the dean of the school collapses under the weight of a psychic attack in the opening pages, and the small town of Blackwood is filled with huge cemeteries far larger than a town that size should have.
Blackwood seems to have four core characters, who share a large common dorm space and disturbing dreams and each have some sort of dark past. There's the white-haired Wren Valentine, who watched her friends ripped to shreds by an unknown creature, and the quiet Reiko Oyuki, who is subtly hinted to have some sort of missing sibling. Rounding out the cast is the eyepatch-wearing Stephen Heller and the quiet Dennis Wolchinski, each of which probably have some sort of skeletons (or worse) hiding in their closet as well.
The artistic team of Veronica and Andy Fish really shine in Blackwood. The aesthetics of Blackwood College are unmistakably inspired by the Miskatonic University of Lovecraft fame, but the team finds a way to give the college its own creepy atmosphere. I appreciate the contrast between the exteriors and interiors of Blackwood College. The buildings and grounds of Blackwood look haunting and appropriately gothic, but the interiors are bright and modern. It feeds into the idea that Blackwood is just your typical small East Coast liberal arts college, even though we know it's anything but.
The coloring choices are also exceptionally nuanced, with Wren's bright white hair and incredibly pale complexion serving as a highlight of sort of every panel she appears in. The coloring choices make Wren stand out, a subtle indication that she seems to be the main character of this story, even when she's not saying or doing anything besides glowering. Wren is the most fully fleshed out of the quartet of protagonists in the first issue, but the way the comic is colored really drives the point that she seems to be the most important character.0comments
Of course, Blackwood is unapologetically Lovecraftian in tone, and that means haunting nightmares, possessed dead bodies, recurrent phrases spoken in alien tongues, and slimy tentacle monsters. However, Blackwood seems to be using the Lovecraftian motifs more as a foundation than as an active part of the book. There's no indication that Cthulhu, Dagon, or any of the other Great Old Ones from the Cthulhu Mythos will actually play a part in the comic. That part's exciting, at least to me, because Dorkin isn't as shackled by what came before. I'm really curious to see what the mythos of Blackwood is and how far it strays from the familiar Lovecraft story beats.
Blackwood is a fantastic first issue, even for those who aren't enamored with Lovecraft and his brand of existential dread. It's a great horror comic with lots of occult mystery, and the creative team of Dorkin and Veronica and Andy Fish are about as strong as you get in mainstream monthly comics. Blackwood could be a contender for series of the year, and I can't wait to read what happens next.