Review - Blackwood #1 (@DarkHorseComics)

"There's still so much I have to do..."

Upon graduating high school there's a plethora of options out there. Some get a job right away while others go to college. And while a lot do go to college, it's likely that very few of those college enrollees go to a school where the focus is on the occult as in Blackwood #1 from Dark Horse Comics. The issue is written by Evan Dorkin, illustrated by Veronica Fish and layouts/lettered by Andy Fish.

When four teenagers with haunted pasts enroll in Blackwood College--a school that trains students in the occult--their desire to enhance their supernatural abilities and bond with others is hampered by an undead dean's curse, ghosts in their dorm, a mischievous two-headed mummy-chimp, a plague of mutant insects and the discovery of an ancient evil that forces our heroes to undergo a crash course in the occult for the sake of the world.

Dorkin starts the issue off by setting the context for the events expected to unfold as the series progresses. There's an event at the beginning that focuses on one character that immediately establishes the tone, followed by the arrival of the four main students as they explore Blackwood and learn about its eccentricities. Dorkin does a solid job of characterizing each of the teenagers, giving them all distinct personalities that play well off of one another. Despite the characterizations, Dorkin doesn't really provide a tremendous amount of backstory for the characters save for a few snippets here and there which is used to great effect in keeping the reader intrigued. The end of the issue definitely ups the ante quite a bit as Dorkin blends together equal parts danger and magic to set the tone for the duration of the series.

The artwork by Fish gives the book a Scooby Doo vibe in the way the characters are illustrated. Matching the distinct personalities, Fish gives each character a very distinct look that reflects their attitudes well by emphasizing facial features and expressions. The more "magical" aspects of the book are also illustrated with a a great imagination behind them in that Fish has imbued Blackwood with a sense of the macabre befitting its status as a school for occult studies. The panels are arranged very cleanly as Fish stacks them together in grids that effectively show a sequence of events incrementally. Colors are also used to great effect throughout the book as Fish relies on the whole spectrum for impressing upon the reader various emotional states.

Blackwood #1 is a creepy yet academic approach to a haunted house story. The four new arrivals to the school aren't entirely put off by the concept of things that go bump in the night, choosing instead to embrace things and roll with it. Dorkin's script is paced well and does a great job as a first issue in setting everything up. The Fish duo's artwork is the right tone for the story, as it's not too serious yet eerie enough to establish the atmosphere. Blackwood #1 is a nice, new take on some old concepts that ends in a pretty frenetic cliffhanger.

Blackwood #1 is available May 30.