THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘BLACKBIRD’ #1 IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Brendan F. Hodgdon. Creative freedom—the cornerstone of Image’s publishing philosophy and brand—can mean any number of things. It can mean the opportunity for an artist to bare their soul and tell a deeply personal and emotionally rich story. Or it can mean putting your comic together with whatever uncommon form of teamwork makes sense for you. In the case of the new series Blackbird, from Sam Humphries, Jen Bartel and their coterie of collaborators, it means both those things and more.
On a narrative level, the creators are telling a story that is raw and unflinching in its human elements, despite the highly genre-fied surface features. They’re tackling elemental human experiences in an honest and direct way that could only be properly done in a story that is wholly their own. In doing so, they have assembled a murderer’s row of storytellers that are working together in some relatively unorthodox ways—though they certainly haven’t hurt the overall success and cohesion of the final product.
The series, following a young woman named Nina who is obsessed with rediscovering a magical world that she glimpsed when she was younger, is certainly an intriguing concept. But it’s far from the concept alone that makes this series stand out. While I enjoy a great many comics, it isn’t so often that a series comes along which truly speaks to me to the intimate degree that Blackbird has. The multifaceted collaboration at the heart of this series has not only resulted in a well-structured and beautiful comic book, but a visceral human story among the best that Image has produced this year.
Written by Sam Humphries.
Art by Jen Bartel.
Layouts by Paul Reinwand.
Colors by Nayoung Wilson & Jen Bartel.
Letters by Jodi Wynne.
Designed by Dylan Todd.
Edited by Jim Gibbons.
Mystic Arts. The art on display in Blackbird is nothing short of fantastic. Jen Bartel, working off layouts by Paul Reinwand, splitting colors with Nayoung Wilson and incorporating designs from Dylan Todd, builds a gorgeous, mysterious world around gorgeously realized characters. It’s particularly remarkable to consider this multifaceted collaboration when the final result is this seamless and composed.
The use of color is particularly effective, as Bartel and Wilson fill the book with neon glow and purple-y twilight shadow. The daring color palette helps bridge the gap between modern-day LA and the hypnotic imagery of the mystical realm. And the way that Bartel illustrates her characters is also key to this. Her careful depictions of emotions large and small sell both the world and our heroine Nina’s struggle and how they relate to each other. It’s clear from the uncommon artistic lineup that the creative team had something very specific in mind here, and the results more than validate those choices.
The World Beyond. The narrative that Humphries lays down in the script is a clever play on the Potter-esque young wizard trope. In this case, however, the question being asked is this: What if a kid discovered they had a connection to magic, and then lost it? What sort of damage would that incomplete moment have on them, and how would it pollute their adulthood? Humphries uses this approach to open up impressive thematic content, and to present his magical world from a distinct new angle.
The supernatural aspects of Blackbird feel very unique, and wholly separated from any other famous wizarding tale. In this first issue, at least, the magic is left very unexplored and undefined. Befitting a story where the protagonist is searching for answers, the magic on display here so far is obtuse and inscrutable. Thanks to the talents of the art team we get some idea of the scope of power on hand, and snippets of worlds beyond our own. But for now it’s a world that is largely out of reach to our hero… which is largely the point.
We’ve All Been There. Sometimes a comic comes along that speaks to you in such a distinct and instinctual way that it’s hard to know where to begin explaining it. Blackbird is that kind of comic, and the themes it explores stem directly from the high-concept hook of the series. The elusiveness of the magical world directly causes much of the failure and pain in Nina’s life, and it is a pain that many twenty-somethings can relate to, at least in the abstract.
While we may not all have the exact issues that Nina struggles with, we can all relate to what seems like a pervasive ability to screw things up. That sense that there is something grander waiting for you that you can never quite reach, thanks to supposedly insurmountable personal flaws. In reading this issue, I was struck by how my own frustration and exhaustion with life is mirrored in Nina’s. The self-doubt, the feeling that you lost something before you really had it, the struggle to stay afloat and the unintended pressure that comes from your loved ones’ support… it’s all so real. It is a primal exploration of confronting adulthood, and how it can give you both everything and nothing that you wanted.
That Blackbird can function so effectively, and capture these emotions so honestly, while having this many cooks in the kitchen is a testament to the shared strength of vision that this creative team has. This talented roster knows exactly what they are saying and how they are saying it, and they’re all working in great harmony to bring it to life. Most importantly, they have been given the chance to do it their way, and there’s really no arguing with the results.
9 out of 10
‘Blackbird’ #1 hits stores October 3.
Read the DoomRocket interview with ‘Blackbird’ co-creator Jen Bartel here.
Check out this killer variant cover to ‘Blackbird’ #1 by Fiona Staples, courtesy of Image Comics!