Think about this for a moment: At first glance, magic and horror seem like a perfect pairing. Magic in and of itself is simultaneously wondrous and mysterious, awing and terrifying. On one hand, magic can bring a princess back to life with a kiss, and on the other hand, it can raise an army of ravenous dead...
...So why is it that we so rarely see these two successfully paired, at least in film? There’s Warlock, Leprechaun, Wishmaster, Suspiria…and that’s about it. Turns out, comics are where its at, and in issue #1 of Blackwood, written by Evan Dorkin (Predator: Big Game, Milk and Cheese) and released through Dark Horse Comics, Dorkin has made me utterly dumbfounded in why we don’t see this sort of thing more often, because as far as I’m concerned, he nailed it.
Blackwood #1 tells the story of a group of teenagers who have just arrived at Blackwood College, a school dedicated to the art of the occult. In this first issue, the focus is mostly on Wren, a troubled teenage girl with a dark past, as she maneuvers around unwanted relationships with her new roommates, Reiko, Dennis and Stephen. As if finding your place at college and being forced to live with strangers wasn’t difficult enough, Wren and co. soon find themselves wrapped up in a supernatural murder mystery involving an undead Dean, stranger monsters reminiscent of Carpenter’s The Thing, and portals to unknown dimensions. We learn early on through a monologue from the not yet dead Dean, someone or something has attacked him with what he describes as a “psychic attack of some considerable force”, resulting in his untimely death. On only their first night, our cast of heroes happen across the Dean, and, well, to say he’s pretty messed up would be the understatement of the year. Actually, this sounds about right for the first night of college.
A little bit Harry Potter meets The Thing, Blackwood #1 expertly crafts a story of intrigue and horror around a coming of age tale which is so far working brilliantly. In just the small amount of time this first issue allows us to get to know them, I already feel as if I understand quite a bit about these kids. Reiko is that cool friend you can instantly latch onto in a strange new place, because no matter who you are, she gets you. Dennis and Stephen are a couple guys you could go drinking with. And Wren, while she may seem like a standoffish jerk, is really just a sad soul putting up a barrier because she’s afraid to get close to anyone. The moment she explains why her hair is white shocked me probably just as much as the intrusive girl trying to pry it out of her. You really feel for each of these characters, which makes the final frames all the more traumatic.
The art by Veronica Fish (Spider-Woman) also does a wonderful job of transporting us to a world where everything has a touch of magical fantasy and horror. Intentional or not, characters are drawn in a way that feels somewhat like a teen manga, giving off that innocent feel you often find in coming of age stories, where you as the reader can instantly relate to the drama. But just as you find yourself being sucked into this story of innocence, presented in whimsical shades of purple and blue, Fish will suddenly throw a nightmarish creature shrouded in blood red at you, reminding you that this is not a safe place, but a place where unspeakable horror lurks around every corner. Again, kind of reminds me of my college days. You don’t want to see the things I’ve seen near the college campus in the middle of Chicago at 3am…
Hardcore horror fans looking for gore and gratuitous violence may be disappointed by Blackwood #1, but if you’re looking for a character driven drama with a backdrop of seriously awesome creature designs and black magic, look no further. Evan Dorkin delivers a masterful insight into the human psyche, and Veronica Fish has put images on the page that are so captivating with their designs and unique colors that it almost feels like I’m being embraced by the warm tentacles of Cthulu as he drags me into a deep, dark void…wait, where am I? Shit...
By Matt Konopka