REVIEW: An Unkindness of Ravens #1 Is Almost Bewitching

A Group of teenagers sit in a sunlit but otherwise darkened library. The girl nearest the viewer has an eyepatch and short hair - a Black girl produces magical sparks with her fingertips, and a girl with spiked hair lounges nearby, while another girl watches over them with a raised eyebrow. At the center is a blonde-haired teenager with glasses and a black jacket, grey sweater and a pendant. She sits with her knees pressed together, a wary look on her face and arms wrapped around herself

An Unkindness of Ravens from BOOM! Studios provides stunning visuals, which contrast with a somewhat anemic plotline.

An Unkindness of Ravens #1

Mike Fiorentino (Letters); Jenny Frison (Variant Cover); Rossi Gifford with Emeric Kennard (Variant Cover); Qistina Khalidah (Variant Cover); Marianna Ignazzi (Art); Fabiana Mascolo (Colors); Dan Panosian (Writer and Cover)
BOOM! Studios
September 23rd, 2020

Well, we’ve managed to survive to see spooky season, and what better way to celebrate than with some horror comics? BOOM! Studios has one heck of a handsomely drawn story to offer. The first issue of An Unkindness of Ravens brings to life a tale wringing with allusions to Poe, the Salem Witch Trials, and just the slightest whiff of The Craft. It makes a fascinatingly original tale with a few blemishes that keep it from reaching its full potential.

Wilma Farrington is seeking normalcy. Growing up in the shadow of a car accident that killed her mother and older sister and left her father unable to work, she’s hoping to blend in at Crab’s Eye, Massachusetts’ Dansforth High School. Unfortunately, the first thing she notices when she enters the city limits is a missing persons poster featuring a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl named Waverly who looks just like her, a fact that instantly causes everyone around her to gossip and treat her oddly. Wilma meets the school’s queen bee, local rich girl Scarlett Dansforth, and The Ravens, a clique of gothy folks who instantly request Wilma’s presence in the woods outside of school. Scarlett and her clique, however, want to meet with Wilma, too. Who will she choose to spend time with?Panel art in which blonde teenager Wilma recognizes her resemblance to the missing Waverly, as commented on by new friend FriendlyAn Unkindness of Ravens starts with some rich worldbuilding it never capitalizes on in the first issue, as it’s concerned with establishing Wilma as a viable character in her own universe. Which is fine — but by the time we finally got to the last page I yearned for more magic, more spookiness, more worldbuilding.

Wilma is all right and sympathetic enough, but does suffer a little from protagonist-itis. Stuck being a wide-eyed newbie and the audience’s guide to this new universe, she comes off as bland and easy to relate to, but only shows flashes of being anything more than a Buffy Summers clone. The best thing she does in the book is try to defend a new friend by threatening some bullies with karate (note: she does not know karate at all); otherwise she’s just confused, if a little edgy. I’m excited about her development, but in the first issue the only thing she really shows is potential.

Both The Ravens and Scarlett’s clique will hopefully evolve out of being stereotypes with time. The designs of all of the characters are at least fairly unique, but so far they’re not anything more than two groups of feared “cool kids” who bottleneck the teens attending their high school into either one social group or the other.

Yana, Vicki, Xooey and Zaida (said Ravens) are all interestingly drawn and possess attitude, but do not distinguish themselves as being anything more than a unit of coolness — one of the girls possesses the power of second sight, another can write neon messages visible only to the intended recipient. Scarlett’s clique is just pretty and preppy. There are shades of your typical nasty school bullies to them, a team of jocks and well-dressed preps, with the potential for something richer that is only that, potential.

My favorite character is the blandest-seeming of all; red-haired and freckled like an Archie Comics escapee, he looks like Jimmy Olsen and acts like Xander Harris — and his name, ironically, is Ansel Friend. Funny, hapless and ridiculous, his presence is generally pretty delightful in the book as he tries to teach Wilma about the school’s social hierarchy while avoiding getting his face pounded in. I have a Bad Feeling that he’s going to turn out to be a descendent of one of the Witchfinder Generals, but for now he’s enjoyable.

I’m using the word ‘potential’ a lot. There are two particularly interesting plot points in this first issue, and the mystery related to Wilma’s father’s trauma connected to the old car accident is interesting in of itself. There seems to be more to the story than what he’s told Wilma, and the pain he’s enduring certainly hints that there’s more than meets the eye in regard to the accident.

I have to make special mention of Ignazzi’s art. Very reminiscent of the look of Archie’s horror titles, Ignazzi creates relatable teenagers and stark shadows – thick lines and scratchy edges. Everything about the illustrations draw the eye in, which is what makes the writing so frustrating to endure.

The issue cuts off just when it’s starting to get interesting — which, I suppose, all good comics must do. An Unkindness of Ravens #1 has the potential to be a delight, but the first issue shows there’s room for improvement.