Advance Review: Blackwood #1 Opens The Gates To One Creepy College

by Rachel Bellwoar

“Sorry Russell, my calendar’s full at the moment. It seems I have “Doom” scheduled for everyday this month.”

This isn’t an actual quote from Blackwood (the message Dean Ogden leaves on a cassette tape for Russell is somewhat more eloquent) but his “Doom” calendar’s real and suprisingly hard to miss on an otherwise cluttered work desk. You can tell that artist Veronica Fish has put a lot of work into designing this space and, thanks to her colors, you get to appreciate all the eclectic details. You’re never at a loss for where to look because the colors direct your eyes, and they read a certain temperature, too. While the room is doused in frosty blue, leaks of warm, fluorescent light pick out the items you’re supposed to notice, so when there’s a development straight out of The Evil Dead, it’s the book wrapped in chains that grabs your attention.

Something bad is starting to awaken at Blackwood College, right when the freshmen class is moving in, and it can’t be a coincidence that four of the students there on scholarship are having the same dream. Written by Evan Dorkin, repetition goes a long way towards providing readers with a foundation for what this evil force is – generic in some ways, and open to interpretation, but enough to go on while we meet the new arrivals.

Where exactly Blackwood falls in the gamut of magical schools remains somewhat vague. Nobody’s carrying a magic wand, but there are pentagrams. Nobody mentions legacy or studying magic beforehand. Blackwood isn’t brought up as anyone’s first choice. Of the students who speak, most sound like they’re there because no other college would take them, and since the upperclassman aren’t on campus yet, it’s tough to get a read on the place.

I hate to make a Harry Potter comparison, because that’s too easy, but instead of isolating the core four, and letting the others be seat-fillers, Dorkin and Fish make a point of giving more students voices. That’s how you develop a strong cast. These are characters who are going to be in each other’s business for months and instead of a familiar face with a broad personality, you have people who can be called upon to add to the conversation.

With all these interactions happening publicly, volume matters a great deal. Larger conversations break into private ones and letterer Andy Fish, always knows how to place speech bubbles so readers can tell who’s listening (or overhearing because of proximity). Sometimes the chatter’s too loud to discern who’s speaking and other times, like on the bus, everybody’s a stranger, so it stands out when somebody talks. A great first reading of the core four can be taken from how each responds to a chatty classmate named Leslie. Their reactions get to the heart of who they are (Dennis is sensitive while Wren is angry and wary of Leslie’s forwardness).

Blackwood might be a strange place but it’s one to be taken seriously. That’s clear from the welcome Wren gets at the train station. With plenty of curious details primed for significance (the name crossed out on the chalkboard in Wren’s nightmare; the time taken to introduce the bus driver, Jamar), animosity from local residents, and an ending that throws its cards on the table in a major way, maybe don’t schedule “Doom” on your calendar but do schedule Blackwood #1.

Blackwood #1 goes on sale May 30th from Dark Horse Comics.