Advance Review: Blackwood #3 Vindicates Any Hard Feelings You’ve Ever Harbored Against Bugs

by Rachel Bellwoar

[**Spoilers if you haven’t seen Dark Horse’s preview for Blackwood #3]
If you forget how Blackwood #2 ended, it will all come flooding back when Dennis’ maggot infested face stares up at you from the top of page one. The sight has every cause to be shocking. Dennis’ fate wasn’t sealed at the end of issue two but the fact that writer, Evan Dorkin, and artist, Veronica Fish, don’t draw out telling us what happened to him is (probably unfortunately) unusual. Divided into three, horizontal panels, a more typical layout would have Dennis’ death confirmed at the bottom of the page and the police going over the scene first. This is a teenager who died – whether by accident or (as we know) on purpose – badly. Instead of using his death for some short-lived suspense over who the victim is, Dorkin and Fish confirm it from the start. It’s no less horrible (and Fish doesn’t spare us any gore) but what happened to Dennis is gory, and addressing that is better than trying to shield the truth.

The truth is that Blackwood isn’t safe. Everyone seems to know it, but no one’s being proactive about stopping young people from going there. We meet Sheriff Tyler, whose reactions seem encouraging at first. He could be Blackwood’s Chief Hopper (Stranger Things) and singlehandedly help their chances at beating the curse, or curses.
But he’s not.  “…the semester’s not even started yet,” he says to the photographer, taking pictures of the body. He knows about Blackwood’s track record, all right, but expects things to get worse, not better, and since he’s clearly doing everything in his power to make sure that doesn’t happen, this is fittingly his last line for the issue.
Maybe I’m being harsh and Sheriff Tyler will come around, but the degree to which adults aren’t taking responsibility for the students under their care is reaching a tipping point this issue. Overall, I like that Blackwood doesn’t humor social conventions or pretend that people stop being selfish when they’re adults. When Wren gets chewed out for being honest about not knowing Dennis, it’s the same kind of honesty you get from characters like Anya on Buffy. Where it doesn’t work is with remarks like the one the doctor makes at the campus medical center, “…hope this isn’t becoming a habit…,” like they don’t know what’s going on at their own school. If my hopes were high for Sheriff Tyler it’s because Blackwood lacks adults who have the students’ best interests in mind, and they won’t even admit it.

A few things happen, though, to change my attitude about Blackwood #3. One is we start to get a better idea of why Reiko, Stephen, and the others were chosen for Blackwood University. Another is the early rumblings of how the Bug Woman fits into this (besides being Dennis’ killer and having a grudge against Blackwood University). Why she’s taking her frustrations out on the freshman class isn’t clear, but I love how Fish draws her as this distortion of a Disney princess, combing her hair and talking to bugs (letterer, Andy Fish, does another tremendous job arranging the dialogue).
Blackwood #4 is set to be the finale and it’ll be interesting to see what Dorkin and Fish make time for and what stays unresolved. With these new, fledgling developments though, I’m back on board and ready to see if anyone makes it for a first day of school.
A few other stray thoughts:

  • From issue one, where it looked like Stephen was going to die and Dennis was saved, the situation has completely flipped and now Dennis is the one who’s dead while Stephen survived the well.
  • On the way back to Blackwood from the train station something happens but it isn’t really shown how they get out of the situation. Also, I think there’s one panel where Stephen’s eye patch switches eyes.
  • Wren’s snagging of Dean Ogden’s coat bears fruit and is brought back in an interesting way this issue.

Blackwood #3 goes on sale July 25th from Dark Horse.

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