Twenty-three-year-old Nina, a bartender struggling with an addiction to pills, is the “crazy baby” of her family, or so her older sister, Marisa, tells her. Ever since the earthquake that upended her life ten years ago, she’s been convinced that the city of Los Angeles is overrun with powerful sorcerers, called paragons, a community of elite sorcerers living in their own pockets of the city. What she doesn’t understand is why everyone else in her life seems to have entirely forgotten the enormous magical creatures that saved their lives during the earthquake. When another accident throws Nina into the world of the paragons, she has to fight to protect her family—and learn some difficult truths along the way. With a strong 80’s aesthetic and quick-moving plot, Blackbird is an exciting new title from writer Sam Humphries and artist Jen Bartel.
Jen Bartel’s saturated, vivid illustrations carry the story to heights it could never reach alone. She fills her stylized, detailed version of Los Angeles with characters with a range of skin colors, body sizes, and fashion sensibilities. The city of Los Angeles emerges as its own character, one with as many secrets as any other member of the cast. The result is a beautiful, rich world, but it’s often hard to follow the story taking place within it.
Blackbird starts off strong. Her relationship with her sister is complicated and realistic, as is the depiction of her drug addiction. The loss of their mother and the absence of their father weighs heavily on Nina and Marisa, and their tenuous reliance on each other serves as the one real family connection they have left. When Marisa is kidnapped by the same enormous beast that Nina saw on the night of the earthquake, Nina goes in search of a paragon who can help her rescue her sister. It’s at this point that the story begins moving too fast to reliably follow.
The world of the paragons opens quickly to Nina, but the details of that world are few. The dialogue grows stilted, advancing the plot without adding any depth to the characters. There is so much happening, so much movement and action, that there’s no room for the story to really shine. Blackbird is at its best when it explores the relationship between Nina and her family members, but as the story moves farther from this central theme, it begins to lose its heart.
This comic shares a lot of similarities with McKelvie and Gillen’s acclaimed and long-running series The Wicked and the Divine, and will be a solid addition to a collection where that series is popular. It would also be a good recommendation for fans of other 80’s-inspired titles like Jem and the Holograms and Stranger Things, as well as anyone with a great appreciation for beautiful illustrations. The content touches upon parental death, drug addiction, and alcoholism, and is best suited to an audience of teens and adults.
Blackbird, vol. 1
By Sam Humphries
Art by Jen Bartel
Publisher Age Rating: T+ (16-18)
Browse for more like this title
Character Traits: Latinx
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator, LGBTQIA+ Creator