Jen Bartel (Illustrator/Cover Artist), Sam Humphries (Writer)
October 3, 2018
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Magical fantasy stories set in the present day have always appealed to me. Especially stories that center on women and their journey to a heretofore unknown world. Blackbird brings us just that in a new comic book series illustrated by Jen Bartel and written by Sam Humphries. The story centers around a young woman named Nina who lives in L.A. with her sister. It starts with a brief look at her past in a short and skillful introduction that tells us a lot about why Nina struggles with her faith in magic during the present day.
Blackbird #1 is the kind of introduction that not only shows us the visual differences between Nina and her sister Marisa then and now, but also shares just enough neon, ethereal mystery to get readers curious at the outset of the first issue. The narration, a storytelling mechanism used far too often in the initial issue of many comics, is not decadent. A dash of explanation is thrown in to spice up the story’s setup and give the audience insight into the timeline. Yet, we still see the important scenes that show us the relationship between Nina and her older sister.
As an older sister of six kids myself, I connected with Blackbird’s representation of the sibling relationship. The portrayal of Marisa’s concern for her younger sister and her consistent bossiness felt accurate. Marisa wants to protect Nina from everything, and push her towards what she believes is “healthy” for her. She’s not wrong in some cases, but in others there are ways that she pressures Nina that are negative. Older siblings don’t always listen to their younger siblings in the way that the younger siblings need, and that very issue took place in Blackbird #1 in a genuine way that made the story feel real.
The other side of the sibling relationship lies in Nina’s struggles with her memory of magical happenings years ago, which everyone in her life currently denies. This includes Marisa, who finds Nina’s faith in magic to be frustrating. She berates Nina about her search for magic, which just drives Nina back to old bad habits. Marisa doesn’t remember that she, too, experienced the magical events we see at the start of the story, because her memory was magically erased. Nina is the only one who does retain a memory of those events. As a result, this struggle of trust between the two women creates a breach in their sibling relationship that is central to this first chapter.
Still, there is a deep love between the sisters who grew up together and are still roommates. This is clear when the mysterious beast that appeared to the sisters all those years ago and saved their lives, appears again to them both. In a moment, the beast snatches Marisa away while Nina screams for it to take her instead. She has waited for years to be part of the magic world, and now it seems that her sister is the one who’s been chosen.
Blackbird #1 is not only a gripping story about two sisters, it features the beautiful and unique artwork of illustrator Jen Bartel. Bartel’s work has been around in the comics world for years. She’s illustrated covers and commissioned illustrations for nearly a dozen comic book publishers, including DC and Marvel, and is credited with work on 96 different comic book issues. Her prolific, exquisite illustration work has earned her a large fanbase that eagerly looks forward to reading Blackbird #1.
In Blackbird, Bartel’s style truly shines in every backdrop, outfit, and color in the neon fantasia of Los Angeles. The brightly colored illustration is carefully crafted by both Nayoung Wilson and Bartel in a way that somehow makes even the shadows lovely. There is not a moment in Blackbird #1 that doesn’t feature an iridescent, mystical edge. Nina’s hair and fashion are huge contributors to the witchy vibes of the entire issue. I won’t be surprised if Nina cosplays are quick to appear at comic cons as early as NYCC 2018 based on the sheer chic simplicity of her witchy woman energy. This includes the utterly lovely circlet that Nina discovers in this first issue, and the way that gems work in the magical economy of Blackbird’s world.
All in all, Blackbird #1 is an ethereal comic book that features magic, mystery, anxiety, and family relationships in a truly beautiful way. Readers can expect to get lost in the dazzling world of L.A. sprinkled with magic and rich with action if they read Blackbird #1. I especially recommend it at this perfect time of year, as Halloween approaches.