Under a spectacular cover from series artist Jen Bartel, with luscious pink and blue hues, we have something that should be, could be, quite marvelous, a fantasy quest, a journey into a new world of magic, a look at what happens when you find the thing you’ve been looking for for so many years and discover it’s not what you dreamed it would be. The trouble with Sam Humphries’ and Jen Bartel‘s Blackbird, at least with this first issue, is that it promises all that and nearly, but not quite, delivers.
Blackbird is a fantasy tale, tracing the life of young Nina, opening with her ten years ago, where the 13-year-old Nina has a vision of an earthquake, a vision that not only comes true, but a vision that ruins her life for the next ten years, puts her in limbo, on pills, and forever known as the strange girl that makes things up.
But, Nina knows she didn’t make it up, knows the only reason she and her big sister, Marissa, are still alive after the earthquake is down to a huge, glowing, magical creature.
That night she sees magic, and although every else is forced to forget, she somehow remembers. And from that point on, she’s searching for the magic again, looking everywhere and failing to find it.
It’s ten years on, and she’s still looking…
We see Nina obsess over magic, seeking out the Paragons, a mythical group of powerful, rich, incredible beings that fuel conspiracy theories and gossip around the world. And, meanwhile, her life falls apart; the pills, an attempted suicide alluded to, her life in limbo, crashing at her sister’s, where she just sees herself as “an invasive species”, and working her crappy job at a dive bar.
And then it happens again and magic pushes its way into her life. She finds an actual Paragon Cirque, gets a glimpse into a different world, and her life changes yet again. It’s that classic case of “you get what you’ve always dreamed of and, too late, realise it’s not going to play out anything like the way you thought”.
There’s tremendous promise in Blackbird, with both Sam Humphries and the artistic team of Paul Reinwand and Jen Bartel getting so frustratingly close to delivering a great first issue, but just falling that little bit short. It’s all here, the interesting character development, the teasing glimpses of magic, giving us a hint to what we can expect in future issues, the conflict, the dilemma. It’s all there, but not quite enough of it all. But, there’s still enough potential here to make it something to seek out, with the real hope that issue two will burst into the great comic this first issue nearly manages to be.
The art, from Bartel, is a curious thing, veering wildly across the issue. There’s bits of Manga stylings here, moving into shades of Colleen Doran later on, where it, unfortunately, seems to lose its way. It tightens up too much, so it stops being the flowing art of the earlier pages and stiffens up. Panels feel too fixed and static, and it spoils things. How much of this is due to Reinwand’s layouts, how much is down to Bartel, you just can’t tell, but for it to really all gel together, the second issue has to have a more consistent look.
The potential is all there, we’re just waiting, with fingers crossed, to see Blackbird really take off.
Blackbird Issue 1 is published by Image Comics, written by Sam Humphries, art by Jen Bartel, layout artist Paul Reinwand, colors by Nayoung Wilson and Jen Bartel, letters by Jodi Wynn. Variant cover by Fiona Staples – and you can see that below…
And next issue…