Blackbird #4 // Review
Life in Southern California is difficult for Nina, who struggles with memories of a brush with the supernatural in her youth. Losing her mother had been awful. Now that her mother returns in a world of magic that turns out to be very real, Nina’s life is about to get just a bit more difficult in Blackbird #4 written by Sam Humphries with art by Jen Bartel and colors by Triona Farrell.
Nina’s story reaches a major turning point when she embraces her mother, Gloria, for the first time since her apparent death... only to find her cold and distant. As it turns out, Gloria is head of the Iridium Cabal, which makes her a prominent figure in the politics of local magic in Southern California. She demands that her daughter forget about her and the whole shadowy world of magic, but Nina refuses, This sets events in motion that threaten to have major ramifications for everyone involved, the entire city of L.A., and potentially all of humankind. Family can be so complicated.
Humphries’ urban fantasy in contemporary California, has developed quite a bit in the first four issues of the series. What had potential to be a really interesting exploration of the nature of magic in a mundane, decaying world has developed into a pop fantasy soap opera - locked somewhere between Harry Potter and Vampire: The Masquerade. It’s a fun fantasy concept with a rich backstory and some really interesting social interactions, but it falls short of anything deeper for the time being. There ARE some genuinely great moments, though! While resting next to the empty grave of her mother, Nina gets a visit from her missing pet, Sharpie, a three-eyed cat who speaks only in lies. The little magical cat tries to comfort her by speaking reverse truths. It’s a very tender moment in a cemetery which approaches its own kind of poetic genius.
Jen Bartel continues to deliver really strong and vivid emotions. Nina has a great range of emotion that even manages to convey all the mixed feelings she has in being reunited with a mother who turns out to have been very, very dishonest with her. There are tears. There is sadness. There is anger. Nina’s emotional reality, including that of her mother, her cat, and everyone else in the story are clearly realized in the flow of the art. Bartel has become quite adept at delivering a very clean street-level reality to the world of magic in Blackbird.
The magical element of the story is really the domain of the color.
Triona Farrell’s color feels very much like its own character. The smooth, cool pastels, which seemed a bit too antiseptic in the early going , by this point, are starting to feel like the substance of the magic that covers the world of Blackbird. It’s representative of the real world, but so clean and luminous, suggesting that every panel is seen through the vivid lens of magic itself. It’s not a perfect realization of the story Humphries is delivering, but Bartel and Farrel’s visuals have a distinctive signature quite unlike most of what’s available on the modern comic book rack.
The series may have missed an opportunity to do something truly original, but as pop urban fantasy Blackbird keeps it light, rolling into its fourth issue. Moments of clever originality between Nina and Sharpie continue to rest around the edges of a supernatural family drama that is beginning to pick up steam as relationships continue to get more and more complicated each month.