Blackbird #6 // Review
Nina Rodriguez’ mother has been lying to her. She’s understandably upset about the situation. She’s going to Burbank to confront her. It would be normal family drama if it weren’t for the fact that Nina’s mother has been pretending to be dead and also failed to mention anything about having her resurrected after an earthquake many years ago. With this, writer Sam Humphries and artist Jen Bartel wrap-up the first six-issue arc of the urban fantasy Blackbird. Nina’s initial journey of discovery wraps-up in a satisfying conclusion which leaves so much possibility open for upcoming issues.
Nina’s friend Clint (who really actually ISN’T trying to get into her pants) is trying to get her prepared for her meeting with her mother--a powerful wielder of magic who thinks she has been keeping away from her own daughter for her own good. In response to the lack of respect, Nina has lashed out in anger. Now she’s expecting a long journey to meet her mother. Nina gets a bit of a surprise when crossing Clybourne Avenue from North Hollywood into Burbank. Nina’s mother is not happy, and she’s about to discover the full reality of that anger.
Humphries is playing in some pretty well-worn territory with one of the most well-known regions of the U.S. L.A., Southern California and urban fantasy have been so nauseatingly over-exposed in pop fiction over the years. In light of this, it’s actually awe-inspiring that Humphries manages to conjure something exciting and novel to the page in this final issue of the first arc of the series. There’s real emotional complexity here between Nina and her mother. There’s no overly simplistic excellent or evil here. Just people with fantastic powers. And Humphries’ treatment of magic in Clint’s clever use of Mr. Sunny’s liquor store at the opening of the issue shows that Humphries is interested in going considerably deeper than the standard pop magic fantasy. There’s real social criticism going on here. Humphries didn’t have to do that. There were easily less political ways of having Clint prepare Nina for her showdown with her mother. With this as in so many other ends of the script, Humphries’ approach to Blackbird shows a great deal of promise.
Bartel delivers details in the background which firmly ground the series in Southern California. So much of the issue takes place in a fantasy removed from the realism. Bartel’s delivery of the fantastic this issue feels static and earthbound as well. It’s pretty, but it’s scarcely breathtaking. The is perfectly okay in an issue that is centered so narrowly on the drama of the story. Bartel delivers emotion vividly to the page whether it’s a heartfelt interaction between Clint and Nina at the beginning of the issue or a very aggressive argument between mother and daughter at issue’s end. The ending of the first arc is really, really heavy on the drama. Not every artist can bring that to the page in a way that feels compelling enough to carry an entire issue. Bartel does a hauntingly good job of conveying emotion to the page.
With so much of the initial world-building out of the way, Humphries and Bartel can start to explore sophistications in the plot in issues to come. The two have yet to find the perfect balance between drama and magic that will fully realize Blackbird’s potential, but this sixth issue is a rare instance of an urban fantasy series eschewing everything else, but the conflict between actions and intentions of people chance and circumstance have pitted against each other. The first arc ends in satisfying drama that is thoughtfully brought to the page.