June 28, 2017

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No Trick: Black Magick Vol 1 by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott is Spectacular

Written by Greg Rucka
Illustrated by Nicola Scott (with Chiara  Arena)
Published by Image Comics

Rowan Black is a cop that has a secret--she's also a practicing witch. Usually, that doesn't interfere with her work, but when someone looks to link her to extraordinary crimes, she finds balancing her secret life in the occult and working the streets of Portsmouth won't be as easy as she hopes. Now Rowan must solve the crimes in her police role and figure out who is trying to use magick against her in this first volume of a great series that mixes a noir theme with magick, all to great effect.

With the new volume of Black Magick hitting comic stores and digital devices today, I felt it was a good time to go back and review one of my favorite new series, that I'm delighted to see back on the shelves to continue the story that Rucka and Scott started. I know lots of their fans are sad to see them leave Wonder Woman, but I've been looking forward to this for some time now, and I put this review together to talk about why.


The first thing that stands out about Black Magick is Scott's artwork. The series itself is mostly in grey tones, but when she wants to highlight something or show the work of magick, such as when a lighter is enchanted, we see a splash of color. It brings out the reader's eye because of how sparingly Scott chooses this technique, which are provided I presume by Chiara Arena. If the item reoccurs, it becomes like a little spotlight, reminding us that this lighter isn't ordinary. I really appreciate that it's not overdone, because it needs to be special to work. Otherwise, the, well, magic, of the visual trick is lost because we see it page after page. The two major instances of color both coincide with extremely important points in the overall story, and I just love how that looks.


I also really like Scott's linework. It's extremely realistic, but not in the way that detracts from the pages. While every character in Black Magick looks like they are in high-definition (we can practically see the individual hairs as they slide down Rowan's face, for example), none of them look like the artist set up a light box and traced/altered an existing photo. There are lines in the faces of characters as they smile or leer. Filing cabinets get the little space for name tags. We even get a slight glow from a computer monitor in a background. It's incredible detailing that makes this world feel real--you can easily see yourself living in Portsmouth and being one of the background figures in the bar, and imagine that Scott would remember that your glasses are almost always slightly askew when you were sketched in the panel.

The detail of the art doesn't detract from the flow or movement of the plot, either. While some creators who dabble in details will "pose" their characters in each panel, and ensure those panels have enough room to catch the details, Scott feels free to move from one grid type to another, spilling art into nearby panels, focusing on small details (like palming a lighter or noting an emptying plastic can of gasoline), or blowing up the page by featuring a splash that's not quite centered. It's no surprise that she does great work with facial expressions, too, particularly when she goes for the "Kirby Close-Up." It's really phenomenal, and I haven't even talked about how horrifying her art can get, because I feel like it would spoil too much. Suffice it to say, she's got the horror chops to make sure that when this series moves into its inevitable dark magick corridors full-bore, you won't be disappointed.

Look. At. Those. Eyes.
Okay, I will spoil one: I'm pretty sure she sneaks Tor Johnson into a group shot. Need I say more?

Because the art is so great, I probably would have read Black Magick even if Rucka's story was so-so. Fortunately, because it's Rucka, that wasn't a problem. Always at his best when working with his own characters, Rucka yet again works with the tough figure who has a past that the reader will have to learn as we go. (You have read Whiteout, Queen and Country, and/or Stumptown, right? RIGHT? Oh shit, I almost left Lazarus off that list.) For some, returning to that material might border on the cliche, but Rucka makes it work by ensuring that while the basic character might be a familiar one for crime fans, the execution pulls Black Magick above its peers, even in the urban fantasy genre. There's a lot more to noir than just "this person's a bit shady"--you have to be able to make it so that the reader can try to justify all the illegal actions being made by Rowan. And trust me, there's quite a few.

Additionally, this holds up quite well as a mystery. It's no secret that Rowan is being targeted, but the plot must be structured in just such a way that we get hints as to who might be hunting her without giving the game away. By adding multiple possible suspects, ranging from the long-time friend to IAB to a shadowy organization. Again--they're familiar aspects, but putting all those pieces together takes a master crafter of words--and Rucka is just that.



Alternating between being a page-turner and something you'll want to linger over, Black Magick's first volume is everything you'd want in a crime comic with fantasy overtones. The world is bleak but compelling. Rowan is a pitch-perfect protagonist, fiercely loyal but with her own code. Multiple foes await her, to say nothing of ordinary cop work. How will she manage it, with a cloud hanging over her very life? I guess that's for Volume 2 to tell us.

When you're at the store today, or on your device, make sure you grab a copy of Black Magick Volume 1 and follow it up with the first issue of the new series, which I'm very much looking forward to reading. Horror and crime fans will fight it a perfect circle for conjuring up an afternoon of New Comics Wednesday reading.