Manor Black presents itself as a horror tale brimming with gothic vibes and intricate struggles that lead to more questions than answers in the first issue. It's a promising start for the type of narrative that it's setting up where secrets are centuries old with magical powers behind them dating back even further. Most of those questions pertain to these already convoluted relationships and secrets that are further complicated by the fact that you'll know precious little about the characters the first issue concludes with, but one question lingered about Manor Black as a whole: What kind of story are we really getting here?
Drama fills the first few pages of Manor Black #1 as a van careens down the road, its inhabitants clearly in distress and on the run. There's talk of mysterious pursuers and dire rituals in the fast-paced opening, all of this shown in muted colors to convey the darkness and urgency of the situation. The second page alone which shows the hooded, bandaged assailant illuminated in the headlights is one of the best scenes the issue has to offer, and there are several to choose from. For both a comic and a horror story, it's an opening that'll have you hooked.
Things get complicated from there. The story calms down and we meet new members of the Manor Black cast as Roman Black and his family—both dead and alive—grace the pages in their own ways. Catching glimpses of the family's towering estate and its gloomy hallways is like reading through a comic adaptation of Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak where every closed door and ominous conversation leads to more questions. Roman's clock is ticking, and it's already supremely stressful to not know what happens when time runs out or what he's going to do about it.
Acts of sorcery pepper the first issue and add to its intrigue without giving much of anything away as Manor Black teases readers with oceans of unknown power. Blood magic and control over elements like fire are previewed eerily and brutally while forces unknown exert their influence over the series' characters. Our first taste of these powers begs the question of how much the rest of the world knows about this magic and who all can wield it, each of those questions going tantalizingly unanswered.
But for all it hides from readers, Manor Black feels like it shows its hand too early on more than one occasion. Seeing Roman conspire with his perhaps not totally deceased relatives who appear to be in various states of decay and incorporeal forms was plenty spooky enough without having to panels full of close-ups on their ghastly faces. Seeing the juxtaposition of Roman next to them was an setup worthy of praise, but the super close-ups of their grotesque features like sunken eyes and shriveled mouths would've sufficed in place of showing them in full.
Fast-forward to the end of the first issue and you'll find this happens again as more magic-wielders are introduced. Afflicting Ari who appears to be the sole survivor of the van wreckage with elemental magic, we meet some sinister, twisted magic users whose foreboding aura is lessened by their humanization. They look like they'd run with the same pack the hooded figure from the beginning belongs to, but they're nowhere near as imposing with their quips and the fact that they backed off at the sight of a display of magic from Roman.
Even when keeping in mind the pace at which one would expect a miniseries to progress at given how many mysteries Manor Black is setting up, some suspense has already been removed like a horror movie that reveals its creature too early. With ideas of human-like hybrids and disfigured characters, factions, and possibly different disciplines of magic perhaps already unfolding, it's unclear what kind of story Manor Black will tell.
Will we get an unconventional horror story filled with mystery and dark secrets like Crimson Peak, or is this a story akin to Harry Potter and The Magicians where magic is studied and the woods are off-limits? The pieces are present to triumphantly follow either route, though perhaps not both at once. Manor Black proceeds confidently regardless, and despite some reservations, this is a book worth keeping an eye on.
Published by Dark Horse Comics
On July 31, 2019
Art by Tyler Crook
Colors by Tyler Crook
Cover by Tyler Crook