Blackbird #2 // Review
Writer Sam Humphries continues to weave an interesting story in the second issue of Image Comics’ Blackbird. A magic-obsessed bartender named Nina has just had her sister kidnapped by a magical beast. Knowing she’s the only one who can save her sister, Nina embarks on a journey into a world of powerful magic lurking in the shadows of LA. Art is handled by Jen Bartel with color by Triona Farrell.
Blackbird #2 finds Nina treading a path somewhere between street-level LA and a sinister world of magic. She confronts her father about the disappearance of her sister, only to get chastised for talking about magic again. (Everyone seems to think Nina’s crazy but her cat.) The interaction with Nina’s father leads to memories of a childhood with her missing sister and her late mother as she follows vague clues to the backdoor of an urgent care clinic, which turns out to be a magical portal to a dazzlingly dangerous other world.
Humphries continues to deliver a fun adventure into a mix of magic and the modern world. Nina is haunted by a past that society sees as a psychotic break, but is actually a very real world of danger and magic. As this is a mystery story set at least partially in a gritty urban world, it might be all too easy to slip into a hardboiled detective narration for the story. Humphries avoids this by keeping dialogue to a minimum. It’s a really, really quick read from cover to cover, but there’s a lot of ground covered in the issue, with some very vivid imagery delivered to the page.
Once again, Jen Bartel conjures a gritty LA that manages to appear very clean and cute, even as she shows the cracked walls of a working class home or the messy disorder of an alcoholic’s apartment. It’s all so clean and cozy. Bartel’s approach to the art isn’t at all unappealing. It’s just ill-fitting.
The warmth of Bartel’s art DOES lend the story some really pleasant moments, though. Memories of family come across endearingly. Also, it’s difficult not to love the life that Bartel is able breathe into Nina’s cat Sharpie. It’s a three-eyed cat that can speak only in lies, but it’s still a common, ordinary black house cat that rests in and around the action. There’s a tremendous amount of personality in that cat, even when it’s just hanging out in a corner of the panel. Colorist Triona Farrell picks-up the same palette that Nayoung Wilson and Jen Bartel established in the first issue: very clean pastels with shadows drawn over them to add a feeling of depth and mood. Thankfully, Farrell adds a greater sophistication in the shadows and variation in coloring than Wilson and Bartel were able to manage in the first issue.
Blackbird continues to coax magic and mystery out of a magical urban fantasy genre that has become overdone in the course of the past 20 years or so. This is quite an accomplishment. There’s something really appealing in the haunting brevity of the series thus far. The first two issues combined might only be a dozen minutes’ worth of reading, but Humphries and Bartel are building a world that lingers in the imagination well beyond the page.