If your tattoos had superpowers, what would they be? I’ve seen librarian group Facebook exchanges comparing book- and library-themed ink; perhaps our art would impart the skills to master databases or project visualizations of the Dewey or Library of Congress systems… “Oh, you’re interested in gardening? Just look for the holograph of a giant turnip to your left.” In the Marked, Vol. 1 by David Hine and Brian Haberline, a society of magicians have been using their tattoos to keep evil at bay for centuries.
The story opens to Saskia, a girl with phoenix spanning her back, losing her eyesight. We are then taken to the beginning of her story in a coffee shop where a friend brings her a flyer advertising scholarships for an art school. She submits a drawing of the phoenix we saw earlier, and she’s invited to the school to interview.
Immediately Saskia realizes this is no ordinary art school when an old woman wearing a horned skull greets her and conjures up a fiery image of the phoenix Saskia had drawn. We learn through Saskia’s initiation—the inking of the phoenix onto her back—that the school is a cover for “The Marked,” a society that is hundreds of years old and has been fighting evil through the magic of their tattoos—more often called glyphs—throughout history. One of their most formidable battles involved The Marked taking on Hitler’s demonic warriors during World War II. However, post-WWII, the society has experienced a time of peace, allowing its members to use their tattoos’ powers mostly for entertainment.
One of their members, Liza, has been experimenting with hybrid magic, combining technology with ink to generate even more powerful glyphs. It is Liza’s hybrid magic that robs of Saskia of her eyesight, an act that gets her banned from the society. Once banned, she is found by the government and asked to join Stargate—a project working to unlock supernatural powers, particularly those from the relics of WWII. Of course, access to Hitler’s playthings does not bode well, and the story builds around Liza’s growing addiction to using her magic to unlock the powers of the past. Can The Marked stop her? Will Saskia be able to see again? What powers do Hitler’s relics hold? These questions are answered as the volume continues.
The combination of fantasy and sci-fi to create this story about occult groups using supernatural powers in the war between good and evil is nothing new. The use of Hitler as the supreme evil is also a frequent trope in comics and manga, beginning in the 1940s with the classic superheroes and carrying over even into one of my favorite manga/anime series, Full Metal Alchemist. Even the use of tattoos to wield power is not new—for example, see Ink, a character in Young X-Men, or the Tattooed Man in the Green Lantern. However, the combination of these pieces does create a great premise for a story. I read for plot, so the constant action and fast pace satisfied me. Others may find that the onslaught of action doesn’t allow you to invest as much in the characters, especially in the other Marked society members who end up as mostly fodder in the battle. It might have been nice to learn more about these characters and their powers before they so quickly sacrificed themselves in battle.
When you have a comic about tattoos, the artists must be able to imbue the inked designs with as much power as the comic’s characters and surroundings. For Benis and Mavin, two of the main characters, this holds true; their bodywork is consistently beautiful. Other characters’ tattoos don’t seem to have the same care and attention invested in them. Where the art truly excels, however, is on the covers with the use of primarily black and white characters with their tattoos highlighted in color. I didn’t like the facial styling of several of the characters, particularly Saskia and Liza, who are often the center of attention. They often looked like Bratz dolls to me, whereas the other characters looked more “human.” Holistically, I’d give the artwork about a 7 out of 10. The tattoos of specific characters really shine, and the colorist does some excellent work with light and shadows, but I’m not complete fan of the aesthetic.
If I were to rate the comic as a whole, it’d likely be a 6 or 7 out of 10. I like the storyline and the premise and I love the tattoos and the cover work, but slowing down the story and evening out the artistic style across all characters would lend a higher rating. Speaking of ratings, Image has set the comic as Mature, and I’d probably set it at Teen. There’s body violence, but it’s not gratuitous to me. (Maybe I’m immune to such things, as I gravitate toward horror comics, but really, the violence is contained in the last chapter and mostly within a few panels.) While I could see teens as young as 13 engaging with the comic, it’s perhaps better left to older teens. The most nefarious influence is likely the glorification of tattoos.
This is again a comic I’d suggest as a digital investment over a physical copy for now. (However, I might be prone to that recommendation when I want to see if the series will continue.) I can see shelf appeal because of the artwork—again, I love those full page cover pieces—but those with a more limited budget for comics might want to wait. Whether or not you purchase this comic, based on reading it, I encourage you to think about your next tattoo and what power it might have if it came to life!
The Marked, Vol 1: Fresh Ink
By David Hine Brian Haberlin
Art by Brian Haberlin Jay Anacleto
Publisher Age Rating: M
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)