Kicking off a new Image Comics series, Blackbird #1 introduces Nina, a young woman able to see glimpses of a magical world beneath the surface of reality. She’s doing her best to cope with a crappy job, depression, and being ostracized by anyone she tries to tell about the supernatural things she sees. Does this magical new series start off on the right foot?
Do you like magical realism? Do you like Studio Ghibli? Do you like Sailor Moon? What about stories that take these fantastical ideas and ground them in an affecting story about identity and grief? That is what you’re going to get when you pick up Blackbird #1. Co-creators Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel open the issue with a peek into Nina’s past, catching the reader up with the events that lead Nina to the low point she’s at in the present.
Introducing the character’s rocky relationship with her sister and the troubled relationship their parents had immediately grounds the series, making it relatable and accessible to those of us who can’t see the magic world around every corner. This grounded feeling comes not only from the realistic portrayal of Nina’s depression, but also from Paul Reinwand’s work on the page layouts. He gives the panels a sense of structure and geometry that keep the supernatural elements focused and easy for the eye to follow. The action of the plot is mostly spent introducing these characters and the premise of the series. If you’re a reader who wants their plots moving a little faster, you may not enjoy all the exposition, but I love getting a chance to really feel out the characters and don’t mind Humphries and Bartel saving more magic for the coming issues.
When the supernatural is introduced, its done so with a grandiosity that evokes Studio Ghibli in that the characters are faced with something beautiful and dreamlike, yet imposing and overwhelming. Jen Bartel’s pencils and inks convey this feeling in fur, scales, magic circles, and geometric cities that appear in alleyways at night. Bartel’s style emphasizes crisp, consistent renderings that use only as many lines as needed to convey an emotion or showcase a design. There’s an excellent page turn moment where the issue transitions from the past to present that features a breathtaking full-page portrait of the protagonist that had me gagged.
If you were a fan of Bartel’s work before this series like I was, you’ll be equally as delighted as I am by the pages that feature beautiful portraits and showcases of creature designs that could function as covers and prints as well as they do interior art. That being said, because Bartel’s style focuses more on characters than backdrops, there are a number of panels with little to no backgrounds behind the characters or creatures. Because I’m a big fan of Bartel’s work and am happy to just look at her character renderings, this isn’t a problem at all for me, but some readers may want just a bit more background detail.
Nayoung Wilson’s colors really sell the magical feeling of every page of this book. Yellows, purples, teals, and blues gradate into one another in a dreamy way that gives the pages a Lisa Frank feel that glow just bright enough in just the right places. I love when a colorist knows how to light up a page in a way that tricks the eye into thinking the comic is actually glowing and Wilson does just that. Jodi Wynne’s lettering matches the coloring well and always feels diegetic to the action of the panel rather than slapped on top of the artwork. The sound effects curve around or slide across the characters and objects in a way that always fits the moment perfectly. I particularly like the font choice for Nina’s exclamations and how the letters pop out of the word balloon.
Overall, Blackbird #1 is a gorgeous debut that will appeal to fans of fabulous supernatural elements and grounded, emotional realism. Now that the premise and characters have been introduced, I can’t wait to see where Nina’s journey into magic will take her. The last page featured another moment that made me gasp in delight and left me very excited for the next month’s issue!
Blackbird #1 will be released October 3, 2018 from Image Comics.