Evan Dorkin (Writer), Veronica Fish (Artist), Andy Fish (Artist and Letters)
Dark Horse Comics
12 December, 2018
Howard Ogden, Dean of Blackwood College, sits within his cold, dark office writing a note to his friend, Russell Colby. Ogden has hidden secrets from Colby, secrets about the college, about himself, about what he has unwittingly unleashed onto the world.
Not long after, a new group of students make their way through the doors of Blackwood College. Among them are sullen Wren Valentine, the observant and stoic Reiko Oyuki, reticent Dennis Wolchinski, and self-confessed loser Stephen Heller. The four of them don’t know it yet, but their destinies are about to be tied to each other, and to Blackwood, in terrifying ways.
On their first night in the dorms, Wren, Reiko, Dennis, and Stephen all have the same nightmare. When they go outside for some fresh air, they come across Dean Ogden. But something is not quite right with the Dean. When he sprouts insect limbs and drags Stephen into an ancient well, the day is only saved because the faculty comes to the rescue.
Blackwood isn’t just any kind of college. It is, in fact, an occult school, and they have been hand-picked for it. Mysteries and horrors lie in their pasts, making them ideal candidates for Blackwood. But with insect plagues, zombies, and weird creatures crawling out of the woodwork (literally), can they even survive their first semester?
I really wanted to read a horror comic, having just finished watching Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which is why I leapt at the opportunity to review Blackwood. It’s definitely a great volume for fans of Sabrina or The Magicians, though there is less setup here than on those TV shows.
The characters and the readers are thrown full-tilt into the magical world of Blackwood, with little explanation along the way. If you’re looking for answers, you had best analyse the subtext, because there just isn’t time to explain all the rules of Blackwood magic. For some reason, this approach works. We have some idea of fictional magic, of how and why it works. Do we really need someone to spend panels explaining it all to us? No, we don’t. Best to spend that time, and page space, progressing the story.
I am very intrigued by the characters, particularly the four students, Wren, Reiko, Dennis, and Stephen. They have dark histories and ties to magic that they haven’t properly explored. I do wish this volume had given us a little more insight into their backgrounds. We only get vague allusions to events, plus half a page of Ogden and Colby’s “notes” on the four of them. (By the way, that half-page is amazing! I’ve read it twice now, and it’s so full of tantalising hints about the characters, it makes me want to read more of this series!)
As for the diversity of the characters, Reiko is one of the protagonists, which is great, and we also have Sherry Allen, the Dean’s “assistant” (she turns out to be more of a head of security), and her son Jamar, the bus driver. They all play significant roles in the book, but I do wonder how much of it is tokenism. None of these characters get much development. They all end the story unchanged and unaffected. We can’t say the same for Wren, Dennis, Stephen, Colby, or Ogden. I hope that a sequel develops the characters of colour more, because, as it is in this book, they aren’t being given the weight the white characters are.
The art of Blackwood is gorgeous. The characters themselves are a touch whimsical, which works in this story. The locations, though, are outstanding. You get a real sense of space and depth, which is incredibly hard in a two-dimensional page. There’s a lot of detail that is very easy to overlook. It really gives the places in this book a realism not generally seen in other comics. The artists, Veronica and Andy Fish, display an incredible amount of talent and attention to detail on every single page, making this volume an experience to remember.
I would have preferred a little less gruesomeness in the book, but that’s probably just a personal dislike. I think the grotesques and the gore worked within the context of the story and was fairly dialed down. Body horror is gross, but it could have been much worse!
I like the ending, though there is a part of me that wonders whether it was just too exposition-heavy and convenient. For a story set in contemporary times, with fairly contemporary sensibilities, I found the denouement to be a bit too traditional. It was a little like being transported to a Gothic horror from the 1800s. The tone felt a bit too distant from the rest of the story, and though it does wrap things up nicely, I was expecting something quite different. I feel that this ending will make more sense once we read more of the world of Blackwood, but for now, it ended up being more twee than it should have been.
I enjoyed Blackwood, and it certainly scratched that horror itch. I loved the art, which was simply stunning throughout, and am fascinated by the characters. I want to know everything about them! The story started off very strong, with plenty of suspense, but its ending left me feeling unfulfilled.