Blackbird #1 // Review
A directionless, street-bound shadow of a woman is drawn into a world of magic in Blackbird #1, the opening chapter of a new title written by Sam Humphries, with art by Jen Bartel and colors by Nayoung Wilson and Jen Bartel. A beautiful iteration of urban fantasy shows great potential in the first issue in this new ongoing series for Image Comics.
Years after a tragedy, a young woman, Nina, is a recovering addict living with her sister while working as a bartender in LA. She’s haunted by visions of paranormal magic she wasn’t supposed to remember from the night of the earthquake--obsessed with stories of Paragons, modern-day wizards hiding in plain sight. In the opening chapter, she finally lays eyes on a Paragon, and has only seconds to process seeing what she has only dreamed about when the magical beast from her memory appears to kidnap her sister. Now, she must enter the world of magic she has been pursuing her whole life to save the one person who has always been there for her.
Modern day magic has been explored quite thoroughly in pop fiction over the course of the recent past. Sam Humphries lends the urban fantasy genre a little something new by juxtaposing it against a woman who could have died as a girl but hasn’t stopped living because of a paranormal encounter that only she remembers from the edge of tragedy. There is a conscientious simplicity to dialogue and narration that allow the visuals to speak for themselves where and when they can. All of the narration comes directly from the internal monologue of Nina, as Humphries maintains enough mystery in Nina’s words to firmly ground the fantasy of the story.
Jen Bartel’s gorgeous art has a luminous heat radiating through the sleepless dream of the narrative. The coloring is refreshingly cool and emotionally warm at the same time. The problem is that it ALL looks so fantastic. This is LA, but it’s not exactly grimy or dirty or anything like that. Even the slimy little hole-in-the-wall bar where she works seems too clean. All of it feels so dreamily lush and full of life, but, without a gritty visual component to push against, the fantastic feels that much less so.
A world of magic just ever so slightly out of step with everyone in LA has great potential. The urban fantasy genre has been covered by so many others so many times before, and in so many other ways, so the series DOES run the risk of potentially veering off into clichéd territory. Nina comes across as a very subtly unique character with the potential to transcend the genre. If Humphries remain true to those narrative elements that make Nina unique, he might just have something special here.