I have recently gotten back into comics in a big way and I thought it might be fun to spotlight some of the best stuff I am reading here on this blog. While I’m mostly into DC comics, I promise I’m not one of those weird DC fans who skulks around twitter while picking fights about the auteur genius of Zack Snyder. DC just have my favorite roster of characters and my wallet can’t really support coming into my local comic book store with a buffet kind of attitude. Well, usually it can’t. However, I made a special exception for Blackbird by Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel.
I’m a huge fan of Sam Humphries’ work on the DC Rebirth Green Lanterns series and he seems to be revisiting similar themes here. Like Green Lantern Jessica Cruz – aka the best new character DC has introduced in as long as I’ve been reading – Nina Rodriguez is truly protagonists for the millennial generation. The world is disappointing to Nina and there is a palpable fatigue and inability to cope with that fact informing the character. Sadly, these feelings will almost certainly strike a chord with many people in their twenties today. I particularly like the way that Nina’s addiction to painkillers is handled. Humphries and Bartel effectively dramatize the life events that lead to Nina’s use of the pills while also making the negative impacts they have on her life viscerally apparent. This expert line walking leads to an excellent dramatic framework for the comic, wherein the audience clearly understands Nina’s perspective, as well as her helpful-bordering-on-fed-up sister Marisa. The interplay between the two characters is involving in a way few first issues can muster and I’m already emotionally invested in where their relationship is going.
Humphries’ script is solid but it is Bartel’s art that will get you to pick the book up off the rack and show it to your friends once you’ve finished reading it. Bartel, who also shares colouring duties with Hayoung Wilson, crafts rich and detailed pages that truly pop. The colouring is truly key here, as it is the glue that makes a world full of real life tragedies and magic blue monsters feel cohesive and lived in rather than disparate and nonsensical. The visual storytelling is also strong throughout the book. My favorite example is on the first page (pictured above), where the audience gets to look Nina right in the eyes and immediately begin to empathize with her post vision panic (In this great video essay, Patrick H Willems notes that the Wachowski sisters use a similar technique to align the audience with Trinity’s perspective early on in the Matrix). From a visual perspective, this is a clearly told story that evokes emotions on the power of images alone and this is all thanks to Bartel and Wilson’s stellar work.
As of now, the magical world of Blackbird is still fairly mysterious. That said, the book wisely makes the edges of the world that we are glimpsing as intriguing as possible. The scene in the Grand Oasis Diner is visually stunning while also provoking a mixture of awe and horror. I can’t wait to learn more about the Beacon and he mysterious “they” that seems to have sent her (who are apparently concerned with Nina’s appetite of all things). This curiosity goes double for the shadowy figure who confronts Nina at the end of the sequence as the panels being to stylistically tear away from the page itself. All of this and I haven’t even mentioned how cool the giant blue monster is yet.
Blackbird is a first issue at its finest and I encourage you to pick it up by whatever means you can. We live in an era of being told that you need to read 5 issues, watch two seasons, etc. before a series “gets good”, which makes Blackbird’s strong start all the more exciting. Now, if you’ll need me, I’ll be over here looking at everything else Jen Bartel has ever drawn.