Friday, December 30, 2022

Blackwood: The Mourning After by Evan Dorkin, Veronica Fish, and Andy Fish

In the Before Times, this would have just been the next four issues of an ongoing series called Blackwood - it reads that way, and my guess is that Dorkin and the Fishes would have been happy to just keep telling a bunch of these stories in one series rather than mucking about with re-launching a new mini-series with a new title.

They might not have wanted to do it monthly, on the old chain-gang work-until-you-drop style, but that's an entirely different question.

But, in the Now Times, everything must be new, and everything must have an Issue #1, and the attention span of any comics reader is assumed - probably with good reason - to be lower than the belly of a ground sloth. So Blackwood: The Mourning After was a "brand-new" four-issue mini-series, following up the original Blackwood series and collection a couple of years later.

But it begins immediately after the ending of the previous book, and deals entirely with the fallout of the events in the previous book, and in no way is meant to stand on its own: it's not a new story, not a separate story, just the next story of this place and these people. And that's totally fine for an ongoing, though it feels a little odd in our modern mini-series world.

And it does mean that if I want to talk about any of the plot, I'm going to either utterly spoil the first book or be very, very vague. I'm going to try to err on the side of vague.

So the cover shows four people, which includes three of the four main characters of Blackwood, but not the one who SPOILER in the first book. And there's one more person, who was a secondary but important character the first time out, but has more to do here - maybe he'll turn out to be part of the Scooby Gang in the long term. And, as the title implies, someone important is dead - let me refer here to the first book, which I said started "with some old guy who just did something magically dangerous and is now dictating his last words while Something happens to him" and note that there is an funeral coming up in a couple of days, nudge nudge wink wink.

We learn a little more about the faculty of Blackwood, the college ostensibly some vague liberal-arts thing (though really really focused on anthropology as far as I can see) but secretly a training-bed for new magicians, plus "psychic researchers, alchemical engineers, occult archivists." We also see another secret magic-based organization, I.N.S.P.E.C.T., who seem to be some kind of government agency - big guns, dark suits, humorless affect, the whole works. Blackwood and I.N.S.P.E.C.T. are not on the chummiest of terms, of course, and even less so after the revelations of the new book.

An I.N.S.P.E.C.T. team is coming for that funeral, and various people are planning for the funeral and/or for secret magical rituals designed for fiendish ends, because of course they are. Our four heroes are in the middle of that, partly because of magical shenanigans in the first book, partly because they are nosy, and partly just because their are the heroes of this story, so we follow their viewpoints.

There is another big magical foofaraw at the end of this book, as there must be. A gigantic unpleasant entity is summoned from Somewhere, an evil actor gets hold of a Powerful Artifact and threatens to do Unspeakable Things, and there's a big confrontation in the college library, which is roughly as cool as you are hoping it will be. (Do I mean the confrontation, or the library itself? A bit of both.)

Like the first book, I found this zippy and fun, and this time writer Evan Dorkin has a little more time and space to start fleshing out the world, which I appreciate. Oh, it's still a thriller, so the action-plot takes precedence, and the artists (wife-husband team Veronica and Andy Fish) do good work there, with a lot of room for moody, creepy colors on top of their already pretty-darn-moody line art.

As I said, it would have been nice if this were still a world where Evan Dorkin and the Fishes - and doesn't that sound like a weird ska band? I bet Dorkin is amused by that - could do these more regularly and build their mythology more quickly. But we never get the world we want, and the world we have does have two solid Blackwood stories in it so far, so it's not all bad.

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