This polished debut issue from Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott oozes comics craft but ultimately feels a little too generic to fully cast its spell on this reader.
One of the side-effects of the current gold rush in creator-owned comics is an annoying habit among reviewers to criticise a comic as a ‘storyboard pitch’, as if creators should be grateful to live off the warm fuzzy glow the act of creation gives them, and not try to dip their bread in the rich soup on offer for TV and film development.
Actually, that’s more than a little unfair to creators Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott, who imbue the book’s debut with no small amount of comics craft (of which more later).
However, as polished as it is, Black Magick #1 still feels disappointingly generic. Even at 28 story pages, this first issue feels like the pre-title sequence and opening 10-minute segment of one of those glossy US ‘rule-bending cop with an issue’ shows.
The protagonist of Black Magick is Detective Rowan Black – a foxy tough cookie who talks the talk and walks the walk etc. However, when she’s not taking down bad guys she’s getting up to pagan frolics as part of a Wiccan circle. And when she’s dropped into a tense hostage situation, she’s disturbed to find that the two parts of her life might be heading for an unwelcome collision.
Rucka and Scott have reportedly been developing Black Magick since 2010, and they deliver a highly accomplished first issue. The visual choices are particularly bold. Most strikingly, Scott forgoes colour almost totally, rendering the book in an atmospheric mix of black and washes that deliver noirish atmosphere in spades.
However, when colour comes, in connection with a particular aspect of the story, it comes big: props are also due to Chiara Arena, who is credited with “colour assists”. It also helps in no small part that this first issue is entirely nocturnal in setting. It’ll be interesting to see how the look of the book develops as the story opens out.
But despite the confidence of its execution, there’s something a little overfamiliar about this opener, from the slightly on-the-nose title to the clipped procedural banter of Black and her colleagues. It’s got everything you’d expect – slick narrative, a Strong Female Protagonist, a sharp visual identity – but the whole seems a little less than the sum of its parts. It feels throughout like you’re looking through glass at a carefully rendered fiction rather than being immersed in the messy stuff of life.
There’s also an inherent problem of what you might call narrative ‘moral hazard’ when practical magic enters the equation in an otherwise gritty and naturalistic setting. Despite editor Jeanine Schaefer’s eager validation of the book’s presentation of Wicca, it can be hard for a reader to buy into the tension if the laws of nature can be nullified at any moment with a quick incantation. It’s why the “firing energy beams out of his hands” John Constantine strikes a bum note against the “doing whatever he must to keep an inch ahead of his adversaries” John Constantine.
This is certainly not a bad comic, but moving through it I felt like I was listening to a tune that I’d heard before, no matter how accomplished the arrangement and licks. With a late save from the back matter, which hints at a much deeper historical context for the action (and designer Eric Trautmann also deserves a nod), Rucka and Scott have done just enough to get me back for #2. However, they haven’t got me totally under their spell just yet.
Greg Rucka (W), Nicola Scott & Chiara Arena (A) • Image Comics, $3.99 ($5.99 for magazine-sized variant)