This week saw new issue of three urban fantasy series from Image, 'Black Magick #5', 'Cry Havoc #2’, and 'Wolf #6'. I read all of them and while I'm not going to compare them in terms of quality (don't read 'Wolf', people), I was immediately reminded that 'Black Magick' is the only book of the three that could open with a five-page sequence of people discussing parenthood with nary a mention of magic and make it work. It's not that there's anything wrong with a more spectacle-laden approach, but it's refreshing to see a book that is confident in its characters and their emotional lives enough to hold off on the monsters for a while. And there is still plenty of action (and monsters) in Black Magick #5 as the first arc draws to a close in explosive fashion. Also, seriously, don't read 'Wolf'. Issue four left off with Rowan's friend and fellow-with Alex Grey attacked by a demonic lookalike, but this issue takes some time getting back to her. We are first given a scene of Rowan having dinner with her police partner and his wife (with the afore-mentioned discussion of parenthood). After that we are reintroduced to the shadowy magical organization tracking the witches and their extremely serious operative. Finally, at the halfway point, we return to the magical fight in progress. This is not actually a bad structure as Rucka's choice to hold off resolving the cliffhanger builds up the tension and then release it in a spectacular finale. And the latter half of the issue is indeed spectacular.
Rowan's attempts to enter the house to check on Alex interspersed with her battle with the duplicate is a tense horror-movie sequence that functions incredibly well, due in no small part to how much the reader is invested in both characters. Nicola Slott sells the physicality of the fight even though parts of it are completely magical (a pattern of bruises and wounds appearing magically over Alex's face is extraordinarily creepy). Similarly, the subtle coloring works when wonders when Rowan gets involved in the fight. Her use of her gun and badge as part of her magical attack are hugely in keeping both with her as a character and with the world that Rucka has been so carefully setting up.
I have been critical before about how long the plot has taken in Black Magick to get rolling, and this issues still leaves most of its mysteries hanging. However, issue 5 also demonstrates that what the book has lacked in plot coherency it has made up for in world-building. The idea that magic has real physical consequences (reinforced by the two earlier murders), put the stakes in place to understand the threat to Alex and Rowan even while the reasons behind it remain a little unclear. While it's not uncommon for comics to have a slow rollout of its mysteries, it remains unusual to find a book that takes its time with characterization and world-building, making Black Magick one of Image's best new titles.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the final two pages of the issue which tease a surprisingly pulpy, scary direction for the book going forward. We finally have a face to put behind our villains (or more accurately, a lot of faces), and seeing how these new character will fit into Scott and Rucka's world is an enticing prospect. Frankly though, even without a big last minute twist, there's plenty in Black Magick #5 to indicate that the title is going to continue its excellence when it returns.
Black Magick #5 Writer: Greg Rucka Artist: Nicola Scott Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 2/24/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital