‘Blackbird Volume 1: The Great Beast’ - Advance Trade Paperback Review

Nina Rodriguez always knew that magic was real, she just couldn't prove it. But when her sister Marissa is kidnapped by the Great Beast, Nina charges head first into the mystical world of spells and paragons hidden in the streets of Los Angeles. Blackbird Vol. 1 collects the first six issues of Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel's visually spectacular urban fantasy.

Nina begins her rescue mission by tracking down Clint, a handsome stranger from the West Side of LA. Clint reveals the secrets of the paragons (magic users) and their hidden war for all of the territories in the city. But Nina discovers more than she expected in their magical realm, including the secrets and lies from the most formative moment of her childhood: the car accident that took her mother's life.

Blackbird's greatest strength is its flawed main character. At the beginning of the story, Nina is a mess. She works a bartending job that she hates, lives on her sister's couch, and escapes too frequently into pills and alcohol. Like other protagonists in young adult fiction, she's fickle and naive. When pressed or confronted, she oscillates between enraged outbursts, blaming her problems on everyone except herself, and sullen self pity.

But the patina on her character is what makes Nina relatable, because even though this is a fantasy comic, her backstory is grounded in authentic tragedy. She lost her mother at a young age, her father abandoned her, and she's always felt like a disappointment to her sister. She's convinced that her problems will be solved by becoming a paragon, but like the pills and alcohol, it's just another temporary reprieve.

The art of Blackbird is absolutely dazzling. Although fashion isn't my area of expertise, I thought the paragon's costume design displayed a remarkable level of ingenuity. I was also impressed by how Bartel, and colorists Triona Farrell and Nayoung Wilson, reconstructed real Los Angeles landmarks like Griffith Park and Union Station with stunning magical modifications. All of these stylistic choices, plus the vibrant lights and glows that pervade almost every panel, elevate the mythos and the narrative.

Blackbird has an engaging story but it unfolds slowly. Humphries relies heavily on Nina's inner monologue, which gives important insight into her character but little else. Explanations of the paragons, their history, and their abilities are scarce. In later chapters, focus shifts to Nina's family history, and the narrative gets stretched a little thin. As a result, scenes where Nina is confronted by different paragons and told not to interfere in their world felt repetitive.

The first Blackbird storyline introduces a strikingly detailed and expansive fantasy world. The paragon realm also has a lot of potential as an allegory for our own society. The comic positioned itself to make some interesting comments on issues like drug use, mental health, the wealth gap, and the generational divide. Unfortunately, it never fully addressed them. I'm hopeful that these things are explored in future installments.

Creative Team: Sam Humpries (writer), Jen Bartel (artist), Paul Reinwand (layout artist), Triona Farrell, Nayoung WIlson (colors) Jodi Wynne (letters)
Publisher: Image Comics
Click here to purchase.

Go to top