Writer: Sam Humpries
Artist: Jen Bartel
Colorist: Nayoung Wilson
Layouts: Paul Reinwand
Letterer: Jodi Wynne
Covers: Jen Bartel, Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
Blackbird, the highly-anticipated new series from Sam Humphries (The Legendary Star-Lord) and Jen Bartel (Jem & the Holograms), is an urban fantasy where magic and mysticism exist in the real world. The problem is no one seems to realize this. No one, except for Nina.
When we first meet Nina, she’s thirteen, incredibly anxious and capable of seeing visions of the future. At least, that’s what she claims. Her family tends not to believe her, and the only one who even humors Nina is her older sister Marisa. One night following one such vision, Nina sees a fantastic, mystical creature appear during an earthquake. Unfortunately Nina is the only witness with any memory of said creature. Not long after this bizarre experience, tragedy strikes and poor Nina begins spiraling down into a stupor of drugs, depression and dependency, clinging desperately to the hope that one day she’ll discover the truth of what happened that night. But the truth may be even more terrifying than she knows.
The story is told entirely from Nina’s point-of-view, as the frequent caption boxes narrate her state of mind and takes us through the events that helped shape her life. This approach keeps the action light but exposition heavy and while we get to know a lot about Nina’s character, it seems like we’re getting the Cliff’s Notes version of her story. Humphries’ script is layered with enough character development to span more than just this one issue, yet the pacing makes it seem like he’s taking us literally from Point A to B to C and so on. The narration is also a bit disjointed – it’s clunky and there’s not a lot of personality in his words or Nina’s voice. There are a lot of interesting ideas present but the writing is just so…bland.
On the other hand, the art is as far from bland as you can get. Jen Bartel is an Instagram wunderkind and her art is every bit as sensational as you’d imagine it would be. Her character designs are full of personality, with simple line-work and vibrant colors, courtesy of the brilliant Nayoung Wilson, that reveal beauty in every detail. Young’s techniques do more than just brighten the page – so many panels seem to literally glow with an aura as magical as anything that actually occurs in the story. Paul Reinwand assists Bartel with layouts and design elements, which contribute to the book’s greatest strengths: it is absolutely beautiful from start to finish.
The fantastical elements of the story contrast with the realistic setting but it all melds together so well. The sequential art is very simple with occasionally sparse backgrounds but everything is just so easy on the eyes that any weaknesses are instantly forgivable. Lastly, where the narrative may lack personality at times, the lettering by Jodi Wynne helps make up for it by adding inflection and emotion with every line of dialogue. Placement of captions and word-bubbles is much more important than anyone acknowledges but it’s handled extremely well here, creating an easy-to-read experience without distraction.
The Veridict: Buy it!
While the execution of the story could be handled differently, there are enough grand ideas to keep the interest of the reader and the last few pages take the story in an unexpected direction that demands you tune in next month. Additionally, the grounded, tragic approach to the characters make the fantasy elements seem so much more magical and intriguing. But really, if nothing else, the art alone is worth the purchase. This is the prettiest book I’ve seen in a while and it can only get better from here.