BLACKBIRD #1 by Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel
While one of the main characters could have done with some more characterization and the plot does fast-forward through some important information, BLACKBIRD #1 is a nearly perfect debut. With an interesting take on the urban fantasy genre, this book is a must read for fans of magical storytelling!
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Urban fantasy has become a rather dark genre. Magic in these many sordid worlds becomes a metaphor for corruption and military might. In BLACKBIRD #1, though, writer Sam Humphries and artist Jen Bartel seek to transform this metaphor. In their new and stunning world, magic becomes a bright spot in the darkness of reality. With BLACKBIRD #1 set to release on October 3, this new take on fantasy will be on the stands in no time at all. However, does it succeed in changing the face of urban fantasy? Or is it simply another comic in a long line of similar titles?

Nina Rodriguez dreams of magic. As a teenager, Nina’s life was spared by a mystical creature that appeared out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly. Since that day, Nina has grown obsessed with the supernatural. Every waking minute of her life that isn’t taken up by work is devoted to her hunt. Needless to say, Nina’s social life isn’t exactly the best. Even her relationship with her sister has become strained due to this insane drive. But what if Nina is right? After a long night of work, Nina learns her years of searching were not in vain. The monster from her youth returns. However, this creature is not the same savior from her youth. Instead, it steals away Nina’s sister, forcing Nina to venture into worlds of magic to save her.

A World Apart

BLACKBIRD #1, Page 1. Courtesy of Image Comics

BLACKBIRD #1 is an absolutely stunning comic book debut. This isn’t limited to the art, though Jen Bartel’s pencils are definitely some of the best in the business. No, BLACKBIRD #1 is magical in all aspects. Sam Humphries has crafted a story that truly feels unique from the rest of the urban fantasy genre. Nina Rodriguez’s life is not ideal by any means. She is a recovering addict, and every element of her life is devoted to a cause that everyone else thinks is crazy. The real world in Humphries’ story feels absolutely bleak and unforgiving, which gives this story a ton of weight. This dark reality helped me connect with Nina’s cause, but it also made the eventual dichotomy between magic and reality that much more stark.

BLACKBIRD #1’s plot isn’t perfect. Humphries zooms through the opening sequence in which the monster saves Nina. Her life after that event only gets bits and pieces of exposition as well. However, none of this truly bothered me. This book is the perfect example of world building. Humphries does an incredible job setting up the dominoes. Now all he has to do is knock over the first piece and watch everything fall in line. He introduces small bits of information that can easily be expanded upon in future issues. The power of this issue comes from the many mysteries that readers will want to solve. And believe me, there is a new mystery on nearly every page.

The Life of Rodriguez

Blackbird #1
BLACKBIRD #1, Page 2. Courtesy of Image Comics

The true strength of BLACKBIRD #1, though, comes from its lead character. Nina Rodriguez is such a brilliant point of view character. On the one hand, she already knows quite a bit about the magic, meaning she can lead readers through Humphries tale confidently. On the other, we get the feeling that she still has a lot to learn. She has never found the magic she seeks, so that world is still as fascinating to her as it is to us. More importantly, she has plenty of flaws that she needs to overcome. Her obsession with magic, while potentially annoying, feels endearing. Especially in contrast with her believable anxiety and issues with drugs, this obsession gives Nina a clear and interesting motivation and also introduces a number of potential issues down the road.

I also felt as if the dichotomy between Nina and her sister Marissa is rather believable. They butt heads in the issues’ second act, with Marissa worrying about her sister’s poor decisions. Nevertheless, Humphries cements their mutual affection early on. This means that their differences and arguments don’t stem from a place of nagging. Marissa has a believable right to be annoyed with her sister, as does Nina. The dichotomy between their personalities seems a bit obvious. Marissa is the super organized and put together one, while Nina’s life is spiraling out of control. Unfortunately, we don’t see nearly enough of Marissa in this issue. However, Humphries manages to set up a rather interesting and powerful sibling relationship that will act as the basis for Nina’s motivation throughout the series.

Magical Art

BLACKBIRD #1, Page 3. Courtesy of Image Comics

As I said earlier, Jen Bartel’s pencils in BLACKBIRD #1 are absolutely stunning. If you are familiar with her work in AMERICA and JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS, then you know that she has a knack for drawing strong female characters. BLACKBIRD #1 sees a bit of a change to her style. She uses a lot more heavy lines, which gives the book a much more grounded comic style. I especially love her character design work with the magical elements. The Great Beast, the blazing blue savior of Nina’s youth, looks equal parts imposing and beautiful, while the Beacon, a magical guide for Nina, feels like a David Bowie-inspired angel. This book is a visual masterpiece, and I can’t wait to see what Bartel and her fellow artists do in future issues.

BLACKBIRD #1: Final Thoughts

BLACKBIRD #1 showcases why Image Comics has become so important to the comic book medium. It allows creators to break the bonds of past expectations in ways that are both provocative and sometimes necessary. This book turns urban fantasy on its head, showing that reality can be far bleaker than any world filled with monsters. It does this with fantastic lead characters and some of the best art in the medium. Seriously, if you like fantasy in any way, shape, or form, buy this book. You will not regret it.

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  1. […] characters of BLACKBIRD are intriguing and addicting. Each person has a unique story that’s leaves us itching for […]


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