Blackwood #2 Signals Rough Waters For An Occult University’s Students

by Rachel Bellwoar

Last month, in my review for Blackwood #1, I avoided talking about the ending but there’s a line I want to return to now, partly because it’s stuck with me and partly because, the first panel of Blackwood #2, Evan Dorkin doubles down.

Dennis has just been freed from Dean Ogden’s clutches (or whatever the Dean’s become since reading aloud from The Book of Despair) and Stephen’s still being dragged towards the mausoleum. He yells, “You got him out! Get me out —”

Does Stephen really resent that Dennis has been rescued, when he’s still on his way to a watery well? Yeah, I bet in the moment he does, and that’s what makes this scene ring true. Dennis isn’t thinking about anyone else, or “Hey, at least Dennis got out.” He’s thinking “I’m about to die and why should Dennis be saved and not me?”

For a comic about a school for the occult, Blackwood can be very realistic when it comes to how its characters react to situations. Nobody’s idealized. Blackwood’s professors show a complete disregard for student safety. How they’re not concerned about backlash (Who watches the Blackwood professors?) joins the list of ways that Blackwood doesn’t feel like a school we’ve seen before (until the last few pages, the grounds are deserted), let alone an occult one (they enter the mausoleum brandishing guns, not magic). It’s not that the teachers are lousy, but that they don’t try to hide their lousiness from the public. If they can’t be bothered to pretend, what does that mean for the students under their care?

That’s the real rub and what makes the first panel of Blackwood #2 so provoking. Dennis asks, “We’re just gonna stand here while Stephen dies?” and Wren replies, “Pretty much, yeah, you wanna be a hero?” Wren’s not wrong, but to hear it said while Stephen’s dying — at that point you still want to hold onto denial, and why isn’t magic making itself useful? Wren and the others are new to the occult. They don’t know each other well, but what about the adults? Where there’s magic, there’s supposed to be hope but, so far, it’s the magic that’s in complete, unchallenged control.

Dark Horse included this scene in their preview for Blackwood #2, so I’m not going to treat it as a spoiler, but nobody saves Stephen. He lives because he’s let go. How do you feel, if you’re Stephen, standing in a room with these people again? After almost dying, he’s back in his dorm room the same night. Stephen doesn’t say anything (and nobody asks!) but I hope we get to hear from him in issue three.

A lot of Dorkin’s dialogue has to service the plot, and the characters are together most of the time, which doesn’t foster personal conversations. Veronica Fish‘s art informs us the most about who these characters are as individuals. When it’s revealed that Blackwood’s really a school for the occult (I guess this is a revelation?) nothing in Dorkin’s words tells us that Reiko’s excited. It’s all in her appearance. When the adults show up, Fish customizes Wren, Dennis and Reiko’s panic to showcase their personalities. Combative, defensive, and calm make for very different expressions of panic.

Other great details:

  • Fish designs another coherent, cluttered space, after the desk in issue one. This time there are open file folders and post-its you can actually read (shout-out to letterer, Andy Fish).
  • For two pages the well water comes to life. These are the only two pages without white gutters and create a fascination around the now forbidden mausoleum.
  • Professor Colby’s character design has him looking like a washed up, kids magician.

I’m a cynical person but Blackwood‘s been matching me, bleak beat for beat. Magic usually gives people leave to act emotionally. The only thing magic is doing in Blackwood is getting people wet. If you thought issue one made a splash, issue two’s not above popping life preservers, leaving its freshman class nervous, and readers with another cliffhanger, going into issue three.

Blackwood #2 goes on sale June 27th from Dark Horse.

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