Monday, October 10, 2016

Review - Black #1 (BlackMaskStudio)


"They patrol the places, but they don't know the faces."

Various peoples have faced various levels of hardships throughout history and the one concept is a general feeling that one group is "better" in some way than the other. It's something that leads to violence, hatred and a rapid descent into becoming even more close-minded. Black #1 from Black Mask Studio looks at that concept and puts a superhero twist on it. The issue is written by Kwanza Osajyefo, illustrated by Jamal Igle, inks by Robin Riggs, tones by Sarah Stern and letters by Dave Sharpe.

In a world that already hates and fears them - what if only Black people had superpowers? After miraculously surviving being gunned down by police, a young man learns that he is part of the biggest lie in history. Now he must decide whether it's safer to keep it a secret or if the truth will set him free.

Osajyefo recognizes the social calamities occurring today, one of them being racism and Black #1 taps into this pretty well. The start of the story is pretty believable as a confrontation between black youths and anxious cops escalates alarmingly fast and Osajyefo uses that as the catalyst for his tale. And there are definitely those same social undertones pervasive throughout the issue; however, aside from that Black #1 is really a superhero origin story. Kareem's powers are a little mysterious, but he's entitled to them due to his racial heritage and that's a pretty interesting twist. The dialogue supports this angle more than the plot itself which is pretty vague throughout the first issue in terms of long-term threads to pull on.

The entirety of the issue is presented in black and white which Igle could easily use as a metaphor on multiple levels with the most obvious being white police and black suspects. Igle's characters are very expressive and are illustrated with poses that establish their perceived social status relative to those they're sharing the panel with. Igle handles the action in the book well, demonstrating the shooting in a way that doesn't feel gratuitously violent; rather, he accomplishes his goal by presenting it as realistic. There is plenty of action throughout the book and Igle's panels frame that action effectively, allowing the reader to keep up with Kareem as he escapes the situation to the Project assisting him. The somewhat traditional panel layout is a safe approach that doesn't let the message of the book get overwhelmed by a sense of hyperactivity.

Black #1 is a very blunt look at a very raw topic. Kareem has a lot to come to terms with in Black #1, but he'll also have to face off against someone stronger at some point. Osajyefo's script is clean and straightforward, drawing on recent real-world events to set the stage for the series. Igle's illustrations are crisp and do a great job of capturing the essence of the book's aim. Black #1 challenges readers to think even more abstractly than most comics require in a way that hopefully encourages more positive and powerful conversations down the road.

Black #1 is in stores now.

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