From the outside, Manor Black looks like any other mansion. No particularly distinguishing features, austere and imposing. Gothic literature’s littered with these kinds of buildings, but in Manor Black it’s less the building than what it’s appearance in the story tells us.
After a car crash. Following a remark by the local sheriff. It may not be clear what’s being suggested, by turning to the house at these moments, but the unspoken accusation is there. Written by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt (The Sixth Gun), with art by Tyler Crook (Harrow County), Manor Black is a miniseries with confidence to spare and an early gift for punctuation mark moments. It’s also a story of magic and family that oozes dark ambiance and makes a car dashboard strangely exciting after its prominence on a splash page (otherwise it’s insignificant but the details Crook includes are great).
Roman Black is dying. During a visit to the family crypt, his head hovers over the one space on the wall that’s empty. You don’t need to see a stone engraved with his name to know it’s reserved for him, but where some might purchase a grave to help alleviate funeral costs, all a grave says in Roman’s case is why aren’t you dead already?
It’s not that Roman’s impatient to die and, to look at him, you wouldn’t think he was doing poorly, yet nobody’s questioning whether he’s dying. They’re questioning who he’s going to name as his successor.
Towards that end, most inheritance stories would begin by introducing the main contenders, but this issue doesn’t do that. We meet two of his sons and there’s a woman who might be his daughter (she doesn’t say anything) but is that all his children? Are there others we haven’t met yet, and are they all as keen as his son, Reggie, to be in charge?
Bunn and Hurtt could’ve forced in that information, and with only four issues to tell their story it shows a lot of restraint that they don’t, but it’s also freeing, that Manor Black doesn’t submit to a formula. With many of its scenes set at night, Crook’s colors supply the action. Headlights and police sirens provide the light. It’s very realistic while also being atmospheric and the watercolors ensure the grays aren’t monotonous.
At Manor House, color becomes more about underlining the unearthly nature of the place and the people that live there (Crook’s letters also help in that area). Since the first issue isn’t preoccupied with introducing all the players, Roman is the character we spend time with the most, but that doesn’t mean we get to know him much better. He’s so effortlessly cool in his handling of a confrontation, though, that initial impressions are positive at least . Could it still come out that he’s a monster? There’s room for that possibility but, good or evil, eminent death hasn’t made him weak.
Manor Black #1 goes on sale July 31st from Dark Horse Comics. It’s a tight first issue that breaks the rules for how inheritance stories usually get told.