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Blackwood TPB Review

Comic Books

Blackwood TPB Review

A late contender for horror collection of the year.

An occult school that deals in information and mystery alike, eldritch abominations of man and monster, blood-soaked insect Gods, and four good kids with full rides caught up in the mix? Blackwood from writer Evan Dorkin, and artists Veronica and Andy Fish is a resounding, brutal and beautiful success.

Blackwood TPB Review
Dark Horse Comics

What’s it about? Dark Horse’s preview reads:

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When four teenagers with haunted pasts enroll in Blackwood College–a school that trains students in the occult–their desire to enhance their supernatural abilities and bond with others is hampered by an undead  dean’s curse, ghosts in their dorm, a mischievous two-headed mummy-chimp, a plague of mutant insects, and the discovery of an ancient evil that forces our heroes to undergo a crash course in the occult for the sake of the world

Sounds good, huh? It is! And, collected here, for your convenience, are the first four issues — a kind of excerpt from the equally Lovecraftian and B.P.R.D-esque Blackwood College in the miniseries style Dorkin often writes in– that should whet your appetite for more. All emboldened by the Fish’s grisly and gratifying artistic effort.

Blackwood TPB Review
Dark Horse Comics

Expertly paced from the compelling introductory pages (“It’s good we have to die, I’ve come to realize that, but not yet, not now — there’s still so much to do” a dying man croaks) through the end, there’s a tonal acuity and narrative focus here that’s hard to deny. Be it the cast of characters, dancing deftly between awestruck but capable students, and a surprisingly honest and affable group of secret-keep sorcerer teachers — all of whom I do wish had slightly more defined voices or vocabulary. Or, the jumps between humor and horror (one sticky note amid a bunch of actual clues just reads “well? wtf?”) at the drop of a pin, everything seems to be firmly in Dorkin’s control. It’s gross, beautiful, strange, and compelling all the same with a kind of Scooby Doo meets Evil Dead 2 nature, sharpened all the more by its great message about love and death (and all the stuff in-between).

In keeping with Dorkin’s usual styles, too, the entire thing reads like a dispatch from a totally realized world slightly askew from our own. This is a trick that I’ve enjoyed in other works of his, such as Beasts of Burden, but none more than here. The narrative, be it through dialogue or keen visual storytelling, explains the things that need to be at the time they’re essential — sometimes with gothic or humorous little garnishes — rather than front loading world-building even though it must be so tempting for a place as wonderful and strange as Blackwood.

Blackwood TPB Review
Dark Horse Comics

And speaking of both wonderful and strange, the world of Blackwood is a sight to behold. Veronica and Andy Fish are, as far as I’m concerned, unmatched in their ability to bring this kind of neo-gothic horror story to life. Dark blacks and dramatic, hard shading are balanced by punches of purples, orange, and pink that invigorate the entire affair with a very specific autumnal energy that elevates an otherwise kind of storied setting well beyond the norm, with an eye for the trappings of the genre as well. Of course, it helps that they have what it takes to make the reader physically flinch at Hereditary-esque decapitations and ritual sacrifices, too.

So, what is Blackwood? At this conclusion of its (hopefully only first, and not finale) collection, one of my favorite horror comics of the year. But also, one of the better crossroads of genre, dissections of craft, and examples of mystery-pacing that I’ve seen in years, all near perfectly executed through a cross section of story and art that is so unfortunately missing in day-to-day comics until something like this comes along.

Blackwood TPB Review
Blackwood TPB
Is it good?
A dark and daring story about love, death, and all the stuff in-between, Blackwood's first collections is a neo-gothic introduction to a world so beautiful and strange that you can't help but be pulled in.
Dorkin has a fantastic knack for understanding which things need to be explained and those that are better left unsaid - I don't want to know all the answers to the spooky occult stuff happening around Blackwood but I'm glad the central mystery is resolved soundly.
The singular focus and effect of the world-building here is unparalleled.
Veronica and Andy Fish are an effective pair, their colors, lines, and choreography all helping with the characterization of both people and place in such a way that makes Blackwood feel totally realized.
The characters could be slightly better defined, as they don't have very unique voices or vocabulary, but this may take time.

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