Dark Blood #1 is the perfect opening salvo for a series with genuine potential. Best known for her work in screenwriting, writer LaToya Morgan artistically blends the tumult of American history with an absorbing science fiction offering. But rather than spoon-feeding the audience, information is introduced organically. As a result, every scene is brimming with conflict, keeping the reader engaged. Admittedly, there are far more questions than answers presented, but it never feels wanting; instead, the issue persuades the reader to remain with the series to witness what comes next. In addition, the issue touches on themes of racism and soldiers reacclimating to civilian life, with enough of a fantastical touch to draw in readers or all genres. I couldn’t help but enjoy the first issue while also looking ahead to what’s in store for the series.
“What if you were given the power to change the course of history? Alabama, 1955. Avery Aldridge is an ordinary young Black man. A decorated World War II veteran, Avery provides for his wife and daughter. But wounds of the past have a way of coming back, and Avery Aldridge will soon discover he is anything but ordinary… After a run-in awakens strange new abilities, Avery’s about to become more powerful than he could have ever dared to dream in a country and society that never wanted him to have any power.”
Morgan pulls no punches in the premiere issue, throwing readers into the deep end. Set in 1955, a dark period in American history steeped in racism and division, Dark Blood refuses to dance around the subject, tackling it head-on. Avery Aldridge – Double-A to his friends – is a decorated war vet whose service doesn’t garner the respect it deserves simply because of his race. It’s a story all too common that is just as poignant today as it was then.
Much of the issue is set in two scenes, using clever time jumps to juxtapose the conflict. Maybe it’s Morgan’s time as a screenwriter, but every page is brimming with palpable tension. Nothing is wasted; every page and panel either pushes the story forward, informs the reader, or provides a contributing detail. The chemistry between LaToya Morgan and artist Walt Barna leaps off the page.
The issue plays out like the best cinematic offerings, but with Barna’s talent painting the picture. The panels can be likened to carefully choreographed shots in a movie: An establishing shot of an old diner, close-ups of the door chiming one after another, wide shots of aerial combat, and Sergio Leone-esque extreme close-ups of Avery’s eyes in all their fight-or-flight glory.
I would be remiss if I didn’t draw attention to the coloring in Dark Blood #1. It’s often overlooked when done right, but stands out for all the wrong reasons when done incorrectly. A.H.G. uses muted tones that perfectly match the story on the page. For example, there is a scene in an alleyway defined by two characters at odds with one another. The colors perfectly match the line work, as the faint light of the streetlamp only partially lights the scene, working in concert with the emotion of the scene itself. It just all comes together so well.
In films, voiceover is often considered a crutch. Unlike cinema, character narration is a founding principle of the comic book medium. However, Morgan uses narration sparingly. Not every thought warrants a narration box or thought bubble, falling into the category of “show me, don’t tell me”. But it works well here, adding emphasis to the action playing out on the page rather than drawing away from it.
My only worry is that some fans may find themselves turned off to this style of storytelling, expecting over-the-top action and tentpole scenes. I would argue that they are doing themselves a disservice. In terms of pace the story never lets up, the scenes are as tense as they come, and the mystery around “the variance” event is engrossing. In addition, plenty of readers rely on a foundation of continuity, coming into a comic series with a strong understanding of the characters and the world they embody. Dark Blood doesn’t have that luxury, but is all the better for it, allowing LaToya Morgan and the team behind the series to build their own story, with rich themes and plenty of intrigue.
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