Black Magick, Volume 001: Awakening by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott
Black Magick, Volume 001: Awakening was published by Image Press in 2016. It follows a Portsmouth, New Hampshire police detective, Rowan Black, as she investigates a series of crimes that seem to be pointing at her. It’s worrisome; in addition to being a cop, Rowan is a witch, and these crimes hint at a magical enemy who has targeted both Rowan and her coven. Poised in the potential crossfire is her non-magical partner Morgan, whose wife is about to have their first baby. For whatever reasons, Rowan has not shared her belief system with her colleagues so there is also the risk that uncovering the perpetrator will “out” her.
After a highly visual opening that has the feel of a television teaser, Awakening plunges us right into the story. Rowan is called to the scene of a hostage situation by a perpetrator who demands to speak only to her. When she bargains for the release of the hostages, he reveals that he knows she’s a witch – and he knows things that no one should know. Rowan is forced to use magic to save herself. The next day, she and Morgan are called to a body that’s been fished out of the river. The corpse died of strangulation, and his left hand has been cut off. In the witch world, this signals someone creating a hand of glory, a powerful dark-magic artifact.
The premise of this book caught my eye, but it’s Nicola Scott’s artwork that really drew me in. In keeping with the world-weary, noirish tone of the story, most of the panels are done in a sere sepia tone. Magic, in particular, brings a pop of bright, ethereal colors. Close-ups on faces, and telling details (like Rowan’s badge which is a five-pointed star) add depth and emotional nuance to the story. I like the “cop shop” and Rowan’s day-to-day interactions with co-workers, several of whom are already emerging as rounded characters.
I understand why Rowan may not want to reveal that she is a magical witch, but I don’t understand why she doesn’t just say she’s a Wiccan. And frankly, these cops must be the snobbiest unit in the country; apparently none of them has ever read a genre book or watched a cheesy witchcraft movie on TV. One of the detectives asks Rowan if she is into “that weird stuff” and she means crystals, incense and tea. Yes. Tea. Honestly, read a trashy novel sometime, people! You might learn something useful.
While Portsmouth’s cops know nothing about Wicca or other magics, the book expects its reader to be much more knowledgeable. You are expected to know what a hand of glory is, and you should be able to at least infer the importance of the rowan tree in Celtic belief systems. Frankly, while I enjoyed the book, the “magick” is a bit of a potluck, with Gardnerian Wicca, Celtic paganism and good old-fashioned dark magic, including a hint of beings who exist in a realm beyond the mundane.
When the story opened I was a bit indignant. The opening pages show us a forest ritual. In the circle of women, most are naked or wearing diaphanous cloaks; they are all long-legged with small waists, very elegant, very pretty. There is one semi-naked man and one man in a cloak to show that the coven is equal opportunity. Rowan and her high-priestess Alex are both drop-dead gorgeous, and I was getting the sinking feeling that this book was going to play off one of the worst “witch” stereotypes. Rowan’s mundane male partner, Morgan, her captain, and Stefan, the operative from the bigoted European witch-hunting group who will probably emerge as a reluctant ally, are all GQ-worthy, studly male specimens, and Stefan gets a nude scene. Then I looked at the splash page of the morning briefing at the cop shop and there is not a pot-belly, balding head or a pair of flabby thighs in the lot, so I have revised my conclusion. (Oh, wait. The captain is going bald in a very stylish way.) This is a book about pretty people of any gender. I did think that Rowan racing around on a motorcycle and living in a huge mansion with no one but her black cat were stereotypical, but I suppose I can survive that.
I’m sure later volumes will explain how she got the mansion – for one thing, it is implied that she and Alex either remember earlier incarnations, or are millennia-old. Volume 001 ends on a cliffhanger. We discover that there is someone after Rowan and it is much more dangerous than some human hobbyist.
I recommend Black Magick; Awakening if you like police-procedural urban fantasy and if you like comic editions with art that is moody and dreamy. I look forward to reading Volume 002.
There’s a very stylish way to go bald?? Why didn’t someone tell me?
I suspect old, bald, flabby people are not a sought after marketing category, in spite of our numbers. It probably has a checkbox way down the list of Approved Diversity Categories, but no one raises a big fuss if that’s not one of the boxes checked by a given literary work. And there are still way too many books written where physical unattractiveness is used as a shorthand way to signal that a character is inherently evil or (at best) unlikeable.
That said, Black Magick looks pretty interesting.
Ah, but some of us old, flabby people have discretionary income. We should declare ourselves a demographic and demand some respect!
For revising the canon of which demographics matter, I think one needs tenure and a long string of jargon-obfuscated publications in academic journals. And then there’s probably a delay as holy writ is propagated to the blogosphere.
Back on topic, unless Black Magick takes place in the mid-1980s or before, it would seem impossible for the Portsmouth P.D. not to be very familiar with Wiccan-style witchcraft, what with Salem a very short drive down the coast and Laurie Cabot celebrated by the governor as the “official witch of Massachusetts”. Wiccans have been recognized by the military (for access to clergy, burials, etc.) since soon after the first Gulf War, I believe. And Portsmouth is a pretty hip town, not a cultural backwater. Makes you wonder what the author is thinking.
Well, they’ve got cell phones and the internet, so I think the mid-80s are ruled out. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the edition, though.
I got around to reading this and thought it was pretty good, but I wasn’t sure by the end that this was Portsmouth, NH, versus a totally fictional Portsmouth of no particular state (or maybe one in Canada?). Were there any clues you spotted that gave away the location? It seemed odd that the other cops at the bar with Rowan had their eyes glued on a televised soccer match.
I thought the soccer match had to do with the name of the team… which was the Wizards (?). But Canada is definitely an option!