Black Magick Vol. 1: Awakening
Greg Rucka, writer; Nicola Scott, artist
Image Comics, 2016

A crime story with a twist: Rowan Black is a homicide detective with the Portsmouth Police Department, and she's also a witch. In fact the story opens with her coven in the middle of a ceremony in the woods--her cell phone interrupts the proceedings, calling her to work. There is a hostage situation, and the hostage-taker has asked for her by name. When she goes in she confronts a man she does not know, but he is determined to burn her as a witch, so he somehow knows what she is, if not who she is. She is unable to break the spell which compels him, and is forced to reverse the burning in self-defense.

So magic is clearly real in the story: there is no ambiguity. At the same time Rowan is a real cop. She and her partner work a murder that seems unrelated to the attack on Rowan while also attempting to identify her assailant (of course she did not reveal the magical aspects of it). Two very odd facts emerge: the corpse is missing his left hand, and the assailant's name is Rowan White. Both things have magical implications.

By the end of this first story arc the stakes have been raised considerably. Rowan and her coven appear to be under surveillance by a mysterious European secret society--which would be dangerous enough--but there is also what looks like demonic involvement. It would be a shame if Rowan's police identity were completely overshadowed by her role as a witch; there is some interesting potential there. But the series is off to a good start. Scott's art is distinctive. She has an expressive, realistic style, which is rendered in gray wash for the most part. It's a sort of charcoal effect, but there are dramatic flashes of color when needed.

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The flashes of color aren't just for color, IRC...I think they're limited to the effects and artifacts of magic.

I like this series, though i got a little frustrated with the typical Rucka "slow burn." The series gets richer as it goes on, and I'm hoping to reread it before the second act starts at the end of the month.

Yes, I think you're right that the colors are always associated with magic. It didn't strike me as especially slow reading it all at once. But looked at objectively it probably could have been done in four issues instead of five.

There is some character work--I'm thinking especially of her relationship with her partner and his wife--that will bear fruit later in the series, I'm sure.

I have loved this book from the outset. That's due to Nicola Scott, whose artwork blows me away.

Of course, she's a "good girl" artist. Her women are beautiful. But, unlike your J. Scott Campbells or Jim Balents, they are naturally so. Scott doesn't blow them up like pneumatic dolls or accentuate the breasts. They're just amazingly attractive -- but also women you might see at a grocery store or at a sporting event. Beautiful, but not exaggerated.

That's not all. As I've said before, "good girl" artists are usually just good, period. From Matt Baker to Adam Hughes, the most famous good girl artists draw cars and trees and the folds in clothes beautifully, and seem to put as much time into that as they do legs or breasts.

And Scott, like her "good girl" predecessors, is the same. She's terrific at everything, and has mastered the charcoal effect that has nothing to do with pretty girls. She's just awesome.

Take, for example, her cover to Supergirl: Being Super #1 below:

I don't know how many people on this board have tried their hand at drawing, but I'd bet it's most. And if you have, you know how hard it is to do foreshortening.

You can follow anatomy and drawing books perfectly, or trace a photograph perfectly, and foreshorten everything perfectly, just as the rules say -- and it will still look wrong. Yes, everything gets smaller as it recedes from the viewer, but it can't look that way. It has to look like it does in nature, fooling the eye into seeing the whole without seeing the parts.

And that's what Scott does above.

Look at any individual limb or muscle group. Distinct from the whole they are oddly shaped, and look "wrong." but when you look at the picture overall, it looks right. You don't notice the strange bulges and too-short feet or whatever because in the context of the overall picture they fit right in. You have to narrow your focus to see them, and when I do, I realize I would never have drawn them that way -- because I would have followed "the book" instead of using innate understanding of how visuals work. Scott knows better; she knows how to foreshorten to make it look natural, and to not draw attention to itself.

Yes, Supergirl is pretty. But that's not what makes this an outstanding illustration.

As to Rucka, I hadn't really noticed him as a writer before. That's likely because of the "slow burn" business mentioned above. No Rucka story has wowed me so much that I flipped to the front of the book to see who wrote it. I usually become aware of Rucka after the fact, when somebody mentions something I kinda liked (like his first run on Wonder Woman) and I think, "Oh, I must like that guy, I guess."

True to form, I didn't notice who wrote Black Magick until this thread. If I read the name before, it just slid off my brain. But there's that "slow burn" thing again -- nothing has happened very quickly, so I've just indulged my admiration for Scott's work without worrying too much about the story. It'll get where it's going eventually, I reckon.

I expect things won't turn out well for Rowan's partner -- his sexual interest in Rowan when he's married is not a trait that will be rewarded in a story that, for lack of a better term, I'll call feminist. That is to say, women are the stars and the concerns and capabilities of women are accentuated, whereas males are incidental, a complication or an impediment.

I'll give him this: So far he hasn't made his lead a lesbian. That's become such a cliche at this point, big "lesbian reveals" that were foreshadowed with foghorns have come to ruin stories for me. So far Rucka has given us mostly women who are friends instead of lovers, and I could stand a good deal more of that.

Having said that, I'm not sure our lead has been established as preferring one gender or the other. She could turn out to be lesbian, or bi, or something else on the scale. (Merlin in the Mary Stewart books was celibate, because sex would cut him off from his magic.)

So it's still possible that a lesbian reveal is in the future. But at least in this book, that's actually more likely than heterosexuality, given the closeness of the coven. I think it's been established that the coven's leader prefers women, but it's been a while, and I don't truly remember.

Which is good. Sexuality is a facet, not the totality. It really shouldn't matter unless it's a plot point.

Being sexually interested in his partner while his wife is pregnant is totally a dick move. So I don't see that going well regardless of the book's focus otherwise. 

I like Rucka's writing, but that may be because I don't think of him primarily as a comics writer. I first noticed him on Queen & Country, which is a very literary spy comic--so much so that he finally wrote three prose novels set in that world (I've only read the first one). I really like his Atticus Kodiak novel series--the title character is a bodyguard. 

And I agree with everything you said about Scott's women. In the early scene where Rowan has to strip so the hostages will be released, she looks attractive in her underwear, but not overly sexualized. It doesn't look like a Victoria's Secret ad: she's even wearing striped socks, just like a real woman.

Ha! I liked Queen & Country, enough so that I have even filled in what issues I missed (which I don't often do for non-Marvel/DC titles) so that I have the complete run. But I never knew who wrote it until just now! I'm just going to call this "The Rucka Syndrome" from now on.

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