Time for a brand new Image Comics series from Jonathan Hickman. Will it be amazing? Will it be bad? Will it feature another secret cabal? Who knows! Let’s find out! Is it good?
The Black Monday Murders #1 (Image Comics)
Let’s look at the solicitation for this first issue:
THE BLACK MONDAY MURDERS is classic occultism where the various schools of magic are actually clandestine banking cartels who control all of society: a secret world where vampire Russian oligarchs, Black popes, enchanted American aristocrats, and hitmen from the International Monetary Fund work together to keep ALL OF US in our proper place.
We get banking and a little magic here… but unfortunately, nothing else.
The Initial Impression
The Black Monday Murders is quite possibly one of the most intriguing first issues of a Jonathan Hickman series I’ve seen. While it contains his usual ticks and interests like the old secret cabals that run everything behind the scenes, it paints a very vague and unclear picture of a strange world. A world in which the people who run the banking and financial systems seem to be involved in very messed up stuff that dates all the way back to the beginning of the Great Depression. There’s an odd murder of one of these higher ups in the financial world and a police detective with an unusual gift for solving cases gets assigned to it. It’s an interesting start, but if you look beyond that, you see flaws in its writing and awkward execution that keep it down from being more than it could be.
Oh crap, Steve is writing and talking in symbols again. Someone whack his head and get him back on track.
This issue’s story is all about setup and introducing the audience to this world. We see a bit of the shady Caina Investment Bank during Black Thursday in the 1929 and see that there is something mystical and otherworldly in the way the group does their banking. In the present, we see how the organization is still running and hear from them how they operate. There’s also murder and we meet some police detectives that are investigating the mysterious case, which connects back to the Caina Group.
The comic is all about laying down the groundwork for what the series will be about and it goes about unveiling things in an unclear way. We get no revelation or last minute surprise to shine a light on anything that happens or what the meaning behind the symbols or titles that pop up. The dialogue and bonus material is vague on the details as well, with nothing really providing any hints for what is happening. We are left in the dark and can only guess what is going on (unless you read the solicitation), which is perfectly fine. The mysteries are rather intriguing here in how they are presented and provide a good enough hook to keep you around.
Oh hey lady! I haven’t seen you since The Dying and the Dead. Nice to see you got a job in another comic until that one comes back.
While it presents an intriguing start to a series, it lacks severely in the character department. There are no character defining moments to make anyone stand out nor provides them with a personality. Almost everyone in the Caina Investment Bank talk and act the same way, with the same snooty and holier-than-thou attitude and persona you often see with these cabals that Hickman writes. What they do and what surrounds them is interesting, but as characters, they are not memorable. Hickman and his characters tell us things about the people in the book, but they never really show or do anything. The worst example of telling instead of showing is with another person called Detective Theodore Dumas, where we have one detective explain everything about the character to another detective. It’s very awkward in its execution, like a lot of other things. When all is said and done, no one in the comic feels worth getting invested in or caring about since everyone’s either an asshole or shows little personality.
The writing and storytelling in the book isn’t particularly good unfortunately. The pacing is horrible, really bringing the story to a crawl at points. Characters can monologue for several pages in vague and tedious ways to deal out exposition or plot points. The comic often cuts between scenes for a random page of text or symbols that deals out even more exposition or story details, which just slows down the pacing or stops the momentum of the comic (it feels like these pages belong at the end of the comic rather than in the middle). The dialogue is all technical details and plot points, making it feel very cold and stiff with no real personality to anybody. The writing is very Hickman-ish, which may work for his fans, but won’t attract any people normally turned off by his style here.
Artwork is provided by Tomm Coker and the best way to describe it, for those unfamiliar with him, is that he has a similar but cleaner style that is reminiscent of Garry Brown’s work (The Massive and Catwoman). There is a scratchy griminess in how the scenes and characters are presented–the thicker inked lines, splattered ink markings, lines drawn all around in the backgrounds, the muddier colors added by Michael Garland, and how inhuman or harsh the characters can look. The art really works well with the type of story. It’s a fine looking book overall, but with two minor problems. Coker copies and pastes a few panels in the comic and he’s not particularly good at capturing how old a character should really be. One woman is supposed to be in her fifties, but she looks like she’s in her thirties tops.
Also, can you get me a new office? It’s always raining ink in here.
Is It Good?
The Black Monday Murders #1 is a comic with a solid, intriguing story and nice looking artwork, but is hampered by poorly defined characters and weak writing. It has the makings of something great or something with a lot of potential, but it feels hollow and there’s not much in the way of characters to get invested in. If you are a diehard Hickman fan who doesn’t mind his writing ticks, this should be fine for you. But if you are unsure, especially since this is looking to be a series that will cost you five dollars a month, you may want to hold off for the trade.