I’m a sucker for genre mashups and new takes on traditional concepts and characters. My favorite first issue of 2022 was the debut of Briar, after all, so it stands to reason I’d be an easy mark for something like Black Cloak. But when you add on the fact that it reunites Kelly Thompson and Meredith McClaren, who worked together on my beloved Jem and the Holograms – a series I adored and continue to mourn – all I can say is that my expectations for Black Cloak were through the roof. And I’m so pleased to say that the book is already surpassing my high hopes in this first issue.
With that preamble out of the way, let’s get into the book itself.
Mashing up elements of neo-noir and sci-fi fantasy, Black Cloak presents readers with a world that feels totally original right out of the gate. We’re introduced to a time and place when wars are a thing of the past, and the end of outright conflict somehow made everything even worse. I’ve always been fascinated by stories that take place in what I like to call “the crappy future,” and this qualifies in surprising ways. The world of Black Cloak is full of magical wonders that people hate, gleaming cities that hide a suffering working citizenry, and and a ruling class that does not realize it’s no longer pulling the strings. On top of all that, the people of this world use incredible technology that is unreliable at worst and merely functional at best.
Many of the gadgets and systems used in this first issue ask the reader to understand their function based on context clues, since exact explanations and overviews aren’t forthcoming. This immediately makes the world feel more lived-in, but there are a few brief moments where I’d love a little bit of a helping hand. Even so, it’s already fascinating to see how the titular Black Cloaks go about their business.
McLaren’s pencils and colors are expertly utilized, both dazzling readers with this fantasy world and making one’s skin crawl when things take a turn for the worse. The aforementioned tech is especially noteworthy — a magical lattice that functions as gloves for the CSI team, a visor that is meant to pull the last memories from a corpse, etc. While we don’t know quite how these things work, the creators of Black Cloak trust the audience to get the gist of things as they weave them into the larger tale. We recognize the hallmarks of a murder mystery story, even when the world it’s happening in is still largely unfamiliar to us at this point.
We also can recognize a downtrodden populace from a mile away, and the book’s creators get a ton of mileage out of that factor in this first issue. For instance, our protagonists visit a dive bar in the seedy side of town that has a tank with a wounded and heartbroken mermaid as its centerpiece, but its the very idea of going to the city’s royal palace that instills the most trepidation in Phaedra and her cohorts. The class divides hinted at throughout the issue are fascinating, and I’m curious to see how these lines will help or hinder Phaedra’s investigation.
Speaking of, it’s immediately clear from this book that our protagonist has an untold number of extra layers to dig through. Even in the presence of old friends, lovers, and colleagues, Phaedra is quite hard to read at times. It’s clear that she’s spent a long time building up these walls, but we’re not sure why just yet. The implication that becoming a Black Cloak is both admirable and unenviable is interesting, and makes one wonder if the rest of her coworkers have experienced a similar fall from grace. Phaedra’s change in station doesn’t appear to be a vocation, but rather a chance to atone for something we haven’t seen in full.
And perhaps it’s Phaedra’s rocky past that has led her to have a very particular outlook on the world, one that still seems at odds with the desperate, cutthroat folks around her. When discussing the murder of a mermaid and the biases baked into this strange world, she explains, “It’s a crime, no matter how I feel about it. It matters when we kill each other.” I may not know where she’s come from at this point, but I fully trust Phaedra to help me navigate the future of Black Cloak.
The fantastic characters in Black Cloak are all very human, even when they have to put up a front of not caring for their fellow beings. Phaedra’s beat takes her through a realm of elegance and horror, complete with plenty of beautiful, flawed creatures who are all just trying to get by. The investigation is just getting started, but I can already tell this is one fairy tale I’ll be faithfully reading until the end, even if “happily ever after” seems impossible.
Black Cloak combines elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and noir into something wholly original and compelling. Move over, Saga. This is my new obsession.
Join the AIPT Patreon
Want to take our relationship to the next level? Become a patron today to gain access to exclusive perks, such as:
- ❌ Remove all ads on the website
- 💬 Join our Discord community, where we chat about the latest news and releases from everything we cover on AIPT
- 📗 Access to our monthly book club
- 📦 Get a physical trade paperback shipped to you every month
- 💥 And more!