Nicola Scott and Greg Rucka’s Black Magick begins with Rowan Black. Rowan Black is a police detective who hasn’t had the easiest run…and she is a witch. The Black family has practiced magic and passed their memories on for generations. Amongst the magical families active in the present, the Blacks have the oldest family line. As a result, Rowan is immensely powerful — powerful enough that a witch-hunting organization and a band of corporatized demons have both taken an active interest in her.
Issue #16, the conclusion of Black Magick‘s third arc, builds its story on a motorcycle ride. Rowan’s on her way to meet up with fellow witch Alex, her longtime best friend. Unfortunately, Rowan’s got an unwanted passenger — the CEO of the demon consortium that’s been testing and toying with her. The CEO wants Rowan to tap into more of her power. Rowan wants the CEO to stay out of her life. Staying out of Rowan’s life is not part of the CEO’s plan.
Good gosh, Nicola Scott is a goddamn tremendous artist. Her work on Black Magick is a superb piece of comics craft. Consider the page above — there is so much great stuff to dig into, and this is but one page.
As drawn by Scott (Wonder Woman), the CEO is an incongruous, unsettling presence, all the more so when contrasted with Rowan. The witch wants to get through traffic, meet up with her best friend, and try to patch things up between them as recent events have strained their relationship. And she really, really wants the demon to leave her alone. The CEO is having none of that. She makes that clear in the way she pushes Rowan to tap into more of the power at her fingertips. She makes a production out of the pushing.
Where Rowan is stiffly trying to focus on the road, the CEO is all but lackadaisically running her hand across the asphalt. Where the CEO magicks Rowan’s helmet away to who-knows-where with a smug smirk, Rowan grits her teeth and grips her bike’s handle. Where Rowan is drawn entirely in black and white on this page, the CEO is always drawn with at least some color in her eyes and her text boxes. Scott’s body language makes it clear that this is all deliberate on the CEO’s part. She wants to rile up Rowan, and she knows exactly how to act to grievously tick the witch off.
Structurally, Scott’s work on this page lays the groundwork for the climax of the issue. The CEO dominates the page — the establishing shot of the bridge she and Rowan are riding on features her voice, even though neither of them appears in the panel itself. She’s centered in the page’s big panel, where the body language discussed above command’s the eye’s attention. When she taunts Rowan with magic, she actively obscures the witch from the reader’s view. And in the following panel, her smirking face becomes the background to Rowan’s exasperation and anger.
All across the page, the CEO pressures Rowan. And it gets to her. The only panel that’s completely free of the CEO is the last panel on the page — Rowan revving her motorcycle’s engine. It’s also the narrowest panel, and Scott lays the page out in such a way that the preceding panels read as much like weights being heaped onto Rowan as they do the movement of her bike. The CEO is pushing her to her limit, priming her to explode. On this page and elsewhere in the issue, Scott builds that explosion.
When it hits, Scott ensures that it’s astonishing. Her work on Black Magick is tremendous.
Scott’s collaborator, writer Greg Rucka (Lois Lane), matches the level of art she brings to her illustrations with his words. Whether it’s a snappy exchange between the CEO and her candlewax-and-fish-scaled Veep (“You wound me, my mistress.” “I do no such thing. You will know when I have wounded you.”) or a conversation between Rowan and her partner/possible girlfriend Nicky Colt (“I’ve been a bad friend lately. I need to make it up to her.” “You go back a ways?” “Oh, yeah. She’s my oldest friend. You can’t even imagine.”), Rucka has a great ear for the ways conversation flows.
He’s also got a strong grasp of the ways interpersonal dynamics shape dialogue. Rowan, for instance, is easy-going and open with Nicky. She lets herself ramble. By contrast, she has no patience for the CEO, and responds to the demon’s florid spiels curtly.
Structurally, Rucka’s doing something really neat with Black Magick #16. He builds to a false climax that gives way to the book’s true climax, building momentum for both but disguising the issue’s true narrative engine with the roar of a motorcycle. The false climax deliberately hits hard, because the true climax hinges on the potential of Rowan’s magic to change things, and before Rowan makes the choice she does, things need to be changed. Immediately. All the while, the issue remains speedy and thrilling.
In the issue’s backmatter, Rucka notes that it may be a minute before the next issue of Black Magick hits, given the creative team’s other projects and obligations. Given Scott and Rucka’s exemplary work here, following on their other endeavors will be a pleasure. And when Black Magick returns, picking up the next issue will be a treat.
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