I will come right out and say it: Black Magick is good--really good. The first two issues were good, and this one is, similarly good. That is pretty much all you need to know, so go ahead and go out and buy it. The rest of this review contains some nitpicking because frankly saying the issue is just good doesn't make for a full review. The main downside in Black Magick #3 is that it begins to take the series in a direction that feels very rote for the first arc of an Image comics series. The pattern in books like Paper Girls, Rumble, and Outcast is to introduce a sympathetic character and then thrust them into the midst of a series of mysteries that will be teased out over the opening arc (one arc if the reader is lucky). Black Magick has expert characterization and world-building, but the constant use of unexplained events is wearing a little thin. In such an otherwise well-wrought series, the cliffhanger endings feel a little too much like the 'tune in next week to understand this week' endings of network tv shows.
In this issue Rowan meets with the leader of Coven to discuss the possibly magical happenings of the first two issues and to make vague hints at the villains (last crack about vagueness, I promise). She takes Ro's observations seriously and asks for a closer look at the engraved lighter from issue one. This leads to Rowan magically stealing a piece of police evidence which seems bound to come back and bight her later. Further, we are treated to a great sequence of Rowan magically protecting her house which resembles baby-proofing and cooking as much as spell-casting.
Rucka's character work has always been his greatest strength and as in his other creator-owned book 'Lazarus', the relationships are better developed every issue. Rowan's relationship with her married partner is fraternal but comes uncomfortably close to flirtation. Her interactions with the leader of coven are respectful but friendly in the way of coworkers who are not as close of friends as they could be. Each conversation is sharply and efficiently laid out, making the emotional side of Rowan's world as vibrant as the magical/procedural side.
As such, the best part of Black Magick continues to be the comfortable, down-to-earth approach Rucka takes towards magic and police work. By approaching police work and magic with the same direct style, he manages to make us believe that Rowan is a competent policewoman who just happens to perform naked rituals in the woods. Nothing is played for camp or relies too heavily on fantasy or horror cliches making the book stand out immediately from other similar comics.
This contained, realistic tone is in no small part bolstered by Nicola Scott's amazing art. Scott uses thick outlines around all the objects and people while the details inside are filled in with soft, lineless shading. It is further a stroke of brilliance to make the book black and white but have all magic in color (something so simple I am surprised I have not encountered it before). The effect is to create the tone of an old-fashioned detective or horror film with a touch of the otherworldly that stands out as much visually as it does from a story standpoint.
The only downside to the beauty of Scott's art is that the characters are occasionally off-puttingly good-looking. Rowan herself often looks as if she would be in demand as an underwear model if she ever tired of police-work (or, of course, witch-work). Similarly, her partner is a square jawed hunk with exactly the right amount of stubble. It's a small complaint, but it can be off-putting in the otherwise carefully realistic work.
As I said at the beginning, Black Magick is really good. There's definitely still room for improvement (I imagine the book will truly hit its stride after this first arc ends), but as things stand I can't think of any reason not to give it a shot. And thanks to Scott, it is bound to make a very handsome trade in a few months.
Black Magick #3 Writer: Greg Rucka Artist: Nicola Scott Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 12/30/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital