By Scott Southard. If the last few years of movies and television have taught us anything, it’s that we want our crime dramas more abrasive and existential than ever. True Detective exposed us to divination in the face of nothingness (yes, even in Season 2), Nightcrawler gave us a look into the creation and development of crimes, real or fictional, and John Wick retaught us the basic tenets of revenge. The common theme throughout is the identifiably human emotions expressed by every one of the characters involved — crooks and cops alike — and this is where we find the root of our love for the neo-noir.
From the very first page, Black Magick #1 presents the readers with the familiar grayscale tropes we’ve come to take for granted over the last decade. We’re given cops, cults, sex, (implied) violence, and Rowan Black, a take-no-shit witch/detective who’s a bit too level-headed for the whirlwind of disorder that’s mounting around her. At times it feels like a very real day in the life as we’re ushered through scenarios of varying consequence, all in an effort to highlight what is actually important. The cycle of tension and relief that Black Magick puts the reader through is akin to the physical feeling in one’s’ stomach while riding Disney World’s Tower of Terror. Up and down and up and down, all while knowing in the back of your mind there are serious primal undercurrents flowing throughout.
The stark seriousness of Black Magick is demonstrated remarkably with the (mostly) colorless world provided by artist Nicola Scott. She dominates Greg Rucka’s thematic tone with a black and white paint job that allows emotions to breathe without stifling any of the action. So much care is put into the faces of each character, and they’re used to express to maximum impact during turbulent circumstances. We see the fear in the eyes of individual hostages, a villain’s pitiful humanity, and a particularly iconic shot of Rowen parked on a tough looking motorcycle, doing the “get me up to speed” detective thing.
(I’d be remiss not to mention the variants by Jill Thompson, who provides a warm style that says “college-ruled notebook piece that took an entire period of trigonometry to complete”, and Rich Burchett’s pulp-magazine size issue with the poses that glow like an old Star Wars poster; as these are some of the most genial alternate covers around.)
As is generally the case with first issues from the Image crew, this one is loaded with extras that round out the witchcrafted universe of Portsmouth. We get a poetic page from a 19th century grimoire, a poster-sized Black Family tree, some Salem-era testimonials, and the giant-size alternate comes with a worthwhile load of concept art, script builds, and other errata that went into the creation of the comic. Black Magick is going to be the kind of thing that requires some mental digging, and loading the front end with this extra “making of” content is a nice touch to help build the mystique behind the characters.
It’s the crafted heft of Black Magick that makes it such an essential book. We’ve been shown how serious a scenario can get between the police and criminals ad infinitum, but by the book’s finish we’re shown a glimpse of how powerful magic can be when thrown into that scenario.
The true nature of witchcraft (and Rowan Black’s involvement in the movement) has yet to be revealed, and the heights that Black is capable of remain completely unknown. Whether she is an all-powerful world destroyer or a simple soothsayer isn’t really the point, but how important her power (and the inevitable power of others in her line of work) is to the mechanics of this world will hopefully remain the essential cog of what makes this book so beguiling to begin with. The ins and outs of the spirit world and occult in Portsmouth is where we will likely find the true depth of this series. But it will be the empathy we feel for Rowan Black that will make us come back for more.
Written by Greg Rucka.
Art by Nicola Scott; colors by Chiara Arena.
9 out of 10