Comic Review – Black Magick #1

  • Writer: Greg Rucka
  • Art: Nicola Scott
  • Colors: Nicola Scott & Chiara Arena
  • Letters: Jodi Wynne
  • Publisher: Image Comics
  • Release Date: October 28, 2015

Witches, weirdness, and a magical mystery that seems set up to span generations abound in Black Magick #1. Described alternately as witch-noir and gothic-noir, Black Magick #1 starts out strong and a little bit spooky with Nicola Scott’s art adding the perfect air of tension to Greg Rucka’s writing as they bring Detective Rowan Black and the town of Portsmouth to life.

Set during the Fall Equinox (Mabon), Black Magick starts with a cast of black-robed characters standing in a sacred circle and performing ritual rites. The beautifully tense scene is undercut by Rowan’s cell phone going off and thoroughly disrupting the flow of the ritual in the worst way. When Rowan snarls into her cell phone that, “Somebody had better have fucking died,” you can tell that something big and bad is about to go down. No one ever says that and then has the problem be that a cat is stuck up a tree or something small.

No. It’s always a major crime.

In this case, the crime in question is a hostage situation at a local fast food joint (“Buddy Burger”) and a gunman who happens to be armed, dangerous, and determined for some one-on-one time with our leading lady. No matter what the cops do, he refuses to give his name or release any of the hostages. The only thing that he wants is for Rowan to come and talk to him, which at first doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. So of course, it has to go that way.

Black Magick #1
Black Magick #1

One thing about Black Magick #1 that really works is that Rowan isn’t vulnerable in a way that most female characters are in this drama. Black Magick pulls from different genres like crime fiction and urban fantasy. Both of those genres have issues with how women are portrayed in general and how “strong women” are treated. Spending a lot of time analyzing the treatment of women (especially the so-called “strong” ones) gets you an idea of how often strong is synonymous with degraded. Their strength is frequently shown in scenes where they’re assaulted or beaten. And I’m going to be honest: that’s kind of what I expected to happen when Rowan went into the restaurant and the man holding the four people hostage told her to get undressed. However, while Rowan is momentarily physically vulnerable, the scene is definite devoid of sexual objectification. 

Rowan faces down the gunman in her underwear (functional and not necessarily sexy underwear at that) and just scowls at him and perhaps a little bit at the viewer. She’s dressed only in her bra and panties and she still looks like she’s ready to punch his teeth through the back of his head. Her posture is tense and she looks as if she’s about to spring into action and wreck the man in front of her. She’s not framed as a sacrifice or sensual or anything like that. It’s fantastic!

In fact, for much of the confrontation, Rowan looks bored. In several panels, she’s not even looking at the gunman and there’s a definite air of “if not for the hostages, you’d be so much bruised flesh right now” in the panels. In fact, she doesn’t start to get frightened until she realizes that this isn’t your average hostage situation but one with a supernatural connection to her past and who she really is.

Nicola Scott’s expressive, almost intimate style really works well in this book because we’re treated to several closeups of Rowan’s face and we can watch a wide range of emotions play across it throughout the issue. That moment when the gunman leans in and whispers Rowans true name in her ear elicits the first honest look of fear on her face. More so than being told to undress or even having a gun pressed to her head, this is a true violation because it isn’t information that anyone is supposed to have. Even worse is that someone else is pulling this man’s strings and has given him this information. How many more people are going to be fed this information and window into Rowan’s secret life as a witch? The breach of privacy alone is chilling.

Apparently, it’s witch hunting season and Rowan is being chased by forces unknown (to us). One thing is certain though, despite the fear of this man and the people riding him and spurring him into committing this crime, Rowan still doesn’t appear afraid. As he prepares to light her on fire (apparently the only way one can kill a witch even in 2015), Rowan tries to help him and then, when her magical help fails her, she protects herself the only way she can: with magic.

(This, by the way, gives us a beautifully colored scene where most of the page is in grayscale except for the fire consuming Rowan’s would-be assassin. The use of color and shadow in this book is intense!)

The issue ends with Rowan calling someone named Alex and telling them that “it’s starting again”. What is ‘it’? Who is Alex?

Black Magick #1 is easily one of the best books out in October. With Greg Rucka’s writing and Nicola Scott’s lovely art coming together, it’s hard to imagine that the book would be anything but fabulous. The series looks like it’s going to be an epic supernatural mystery spanning several generations and there’s no telling which way this dark fantasy book is going to go!

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About the author

Zina Hutton

writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories.

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