by Alasdair Stuart
Detective Rowan Black works Portsmouth Robbery/Homicide. She has a gifted, considerate partner who has some personal space issues, a boss and colleagues who respect her and a close circle of friends. Some of whom are in the same Coven as her.
Rowan Black is a homicide detective. Rowan Black is a witch. Her two worlds won’t stay separate much longer.
It’s very difficult to make a pilot episode that works. It’s your first time with the characters you have to set up the world, the plot, the characters and establish what your series will be abut going forwards. It’s why, in a lot of cases, new TV shows don’t really figure out what and who they are for the first six or eight episodes. That opening run is essentially a shakedown cruise and you can see the dents getting hammered out. Look at Bones, which is almost a different show in those opening six, or Community’s endearingly ramshackle pilot. Any kind of long form storytelling is always going to be a little sticky when it starts off.
This is clearly a memo Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott did not get.
This collection of the opening arc for Black Magick is almost implausibly well done. From the opening gag involving a ceremony, a cellphone and a hostage situation to the closing playoff you get a sense of joining a story already in progress. Rowan is charming, a little enigmatic and increasingly worried. Her friends and associates are all sketched in with unusual nuance that makes them instantly recognisable and for the most part instantly likeable. Rowan’s day job is a world of crumpled people doing hard work. Rowan’s calling is towering structures of ancient, powerful magic and the people who have dedicated lifetimes to harnessing those structures. Rucka, who remains one of the best thriller and dialogue writers on the face of the planet gives each equal weight, importance and humanity.
But what really makes the book accessible is Scott’s artwork. The black and white, clean lines f every page are consistently incredible and never lose focus on the humans in the middle of inhuman events. The closing action sequence in particular is a textbook example of how to show frantic movement and action through static images and the character work impresses throughout. This is a world that feels familiar because it’s drawn that way. We see people dressed like this, eat at places like this, live in towns like Portsmouth. What we don’t get, and what the book shows us, is what lies underneath the familiar. The rich and strange, full fathom five magic that defines Rowan and her friends and is about to invade her day life forever.
Image have been on an incredible run of new series for close to three years at this point and this is no exception. Effortless to read, which means huge effort was put into it’s creation, Black Magick is a must for fans of urban fantasy, horror, police procedurals and great comics.
Alasdair Stuart is a freelancer writer, RPG writer and podcaster. He owns Escape Artists, who publish the short fiction podcasts Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Podcastle, Cas