Blackbird is a series published by Image Comics, written by Sam Humphries, with art by Jen Bartel, colors by Triona Farrell (with Chapter 1 colors by Bartel and Nayoung Wilson), letters by Jodi Wynne, layout art by Paul Reinwand, and designed by Dylan Todd. Volume one of Blackbird consists of chapters one through six of the on-going neo-noir fantasy series.
Blackbird Vol. 1 follows Nina Rodriguez, the girl who believes in magic and monsters and whose life was never the same after an earthquake shook Los Angeles, one that she predicted. She is also absolutely positive that a secret magic world ruled by ruthless cabals is hiding just beneath the veneer of Los Angeles. The problem? Naturally, everyone thinks she’s crazy.
After one night of seeing the most beautiful monster, Nina’s life is left in a spiral, alone, weird, and with a family that broke apart Nina’s narration is the best part of the series. Nina is depressed, somewhat apathetic, at least in the beginning and above all else, she’s tired. That is until it’s revealed that she’s right about magic and the world she saw the night of the Verdugo Earthquake.
The fantastical world of Blackbird is made up of groups of Paragons – or as everyone incorrectly calls them to belittle Nina, wizards – called cabals, each controlling different areas of the Los Angeles area. Using cirques, ornate bracelets granted to Paragons upon initiation, they wield the power of gems, each one performing different magic. While Nina is doubted by everyone around her, she has sought out these facts of the magical world by becoming consumed by conspiracy theories and forums that chronicle sightings of the magical world.
Nina is alone, even though she lives with her sister, Marisa. Her obsession with magic is both the result of her isolation and because of it. As her family breaks apart following the event, she retreats into herself. Magic is a way for her to cope, but it is also what gets her called Crazy Baby by her family – a name that infantilizes her, patronizes her, and removes her power and self-worth. When you’re called crazy every day, you start to believe it. It drives her to search deeper into the world she knows exists while seeking solace in the bottom of a pill bottle.
At its heart, Blackbird Vol. 1 is a story of loss. The loss of a mother, the loss of a family, and ultimately Nina’s loss of self. As the chapter progress, Nina learns not to doubt herself, to fight back, and to be sure. But as she found the world of the magic users, called Paragons, it’s more than she ever expected, especially when she finds her mother at the center of it.
Humphries’ writing is perfection and as I already said, the narration of Nina’s thoughts is well executed and builds empathy between the reader and her. As she begins to discover the world that kept her separate from everyone around is real and she becomes confident in her power, you feel it through the page. But by the same token, when she relapses into a pill bottle, you feel that too.
From a narrative perspective, the narration adds depth to an already deep world of magic in this unique and modern fantasy story. This happens because of the isolation that Nina experiences throughout the six chapters. However, as she builds relationships with other characters, mainly Clint, we see the care and detail put into the narration in the character to character dynamics as well.
As a fantasy story, it is refreshing and exciting to see a diverse cast, with the leads being brown and Black Paragons, and powerful ones at that. Although her ethnicity isn’t explicitly stated, in a flashback of a Christmas dinner, there are Mexican tamals on the table, showcasing her identity. Mexican American characters in comics are something that I search for, to see a story based around someone like me, and given the setting in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas, it makes complete sense.
In addition to a killer story, the small Easter eggs in the book had me excited, specifically, a Chocobo appearing in a dream and Nina belting out “In the name of the Moon,” while fighting with the gems. I connected with the story enough as it was, but when I saw references that I hold close to my heart, it hit me, “this is a book for me.”
Bartel’s art is also a shining example of building out a completely fantastical world and shows her ability to draw fashion that is both grounded in what is familiar while being excitingly pure fantasy. When Nina wakes up after an attack against her by the Hunter from the Polaris Cabal she enters the main area of a bar and we get a breakdown of what clothes mean to each cabal. The designs are gorgeous.
Outside of cabal fashion, the clothes that Nina wears are perfection and fit each moment, adding to it and not simply just being clothing that she wears in a scene but instead a piece of it. After reading this volume it’s clear why Bartel designed the best-looking geek Adidas.
I have truly never seen an art style like this, soft and detailed and truly ethereal in nature. The monsters are grand and beautiful and terrifying. In chapter one, Bartel and Wilson’s colors are beautiful, specifically in the coloring of Nina and her family’s brown skin tones. Nina’s complexion is mine and its a specific shade that I hardly see executed so well.
In fact, the diversity of the characters in the volume allows the colorists involved in the series to flex their artistic muscle and it is amazing to see. Seeing so many variations in one series showcases the spectrum of browns just within Nina’s family.
That being said, in chapter two the coloring is a huge issue for me, as the beautiful execution of Nina’s brown skin is turned to a sickly yellow with no explanation. In flashbacks, her skin tone and her family’s is what I expected from chapter one and the subsequent chapters also offer the beautiful execution I explained above. With that, chapter two threw a wrench into my love of the visuals of the series and it doesn’t do Bartel’s art justice.
Overall, Blackbird Vol. 1 is a beautiful book with an emotive story. As a fantasy, the series succeeds, with worldbuilding that establishes order to the magic, the cabals, and creates a depth in the paragons that is beyond just sexy cool wizards. The magical world of Blackbird feels whole. I am left with questions that are set up by Humphries but none that are born out of plot issues, which is hard to execute when creating a fantasy world.
As a series, Blackbird is a story of loss but also Nina’s story of finding her power. In volume one, the first arc has set Nina up as a woman who has found her strength and will not go back. In the page, featured above, her intensity and power are felt through the page. Now that she has left Crazy Baby behind her, with no intention of looking back, her path is set for a fantasy adventure.
If you’re looking for a new fantasy series, a dynamic lead character, and beautiful art then pick up Blackbird Vol. 1. Start reading and get pulled into the world of Paragons and cabals.
Blackbird Vol. 1
As a series, Blackbird is a story of loss but also Nina’s story of finding her power. In volume one, the first arc has set Nina up as a woman who has found her strength and will not go back. In the page, featured above, her intensity and power are felt through the page. Now that she has left Crazy Baby behind her, with no intention of looking back, her path is set for a fantasy adventure. If you’re looking for a new fantasy series, a dynamic lead character, and beautiful art then pick up Blackbird Vol. 1. Start reading and get pulled into the world of Paragons and cabals.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.