Urban fantasy has been a popular subgenre in the SFF world for a while now. However, in comics, there are really only a few examples outside of the Big Two, relatively speaking. Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel aim to change that in Blackbird #1.
Humphries and Bartel – joined by Paul Reinwald on layouts, Nayoung Wilson and Bartel on color art, Jodi Wynne on letters, and Dylan Todd doing design work – give us a hint of a complex mythology in this issue. However, they do the important work in this issue of establishing the characters and stakes. That’s what makes this so interesting.
Nina is a special girl. Ten years ago, she saw a vision that saved her family’s life, as well as a glimpse into a magical world. Now, she self medicates to deal with the mundane life she lives and to try to convince herself she’s not crazy. A chance encounter reveals that she was indeed very sane, and endangers her family in the process.
First issues can often be very difficult, especially as far as what a writer needs to accomplish. Humphries takes that in stride here, balancing plot, character and world building. Nina is instantly an engaging protagonist, and the supporting cast- while mostly only hinted at- is interesting and engrossing.
As far as the mythology and world here, we only get a hint, but the hint pulls you right in. There’s strange beasts. There’s god-like wizards. And there’s LA, a city that’s practically a character of its own. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough that you want to learn more.
Bartel, Reinwald and Wilson all put in great work. The layouts during the more mundane scenes are fairly straightforward, while they blow open and widen as it reaches the more fantastic. That comes to a crescendo mid-issue as Nina gets her first glimpse into the magical world around her in a stunning full-page spread.
Bartel is one of the most stunning line artists in the comics industry today. This issue proves that, with some great character work throughout. She shows us a beautiful but very troubled soul. She also creates some amazing fantasy, with the highlight being the feline dragon that’s the center of both of the issue’s most fantastical moments.
In 24 pages, Humphries and Bartel have created a great entry into the urban fantasy realm, and one of comics’ best #1’s this year.
Blackbird #1 is available now from Image Comics.