This Week's Comics: A Film-Noir Murder Mystery in a Magic Fantasy … – The Stranger

It may not shock you to hear that the holiday weeks are not a particularly active time for the launching of new comic series. But there are quite a few new paperbacks and hardcovers out this week, many of them suitable for holiday gift-giving if you’ve been very last-minute about it. 
There’s a new volume of the graphic novel adaptation of the Wings of Fire series, which I’m told is a hot property among the youths. Catwoman: Lonely City is a lovely collection of the first four issues of this popular series, and the first issues of Fantastic Four: Life Story is now out in trade paperback. And there are two great reprints available this week: Afro Samurai and Fantastic Four: Full Circle, an absolutely gorgeous Jack Kirby-esque explosion of color.
Also of interest is Breath of the Giant, a magic-kid graphic novel that looks gorgeous; and you may want to take a peek at Artichoke Tales, a comic-of-age story set in a fantasy world with vegetable-ish people. Sure, why not!
A beautiful tale of women fighting demons both mythical and personal, Season of the Bruja is a fantastic achievement and I’m delighted to see the first issues now collected in a trade paperback. Althalia is the last of her kind, exorcizing evil with the help of a friendly chupacabra and a were-coyote. Her grandmother spends her time at a museum amidst cultural treasures pillaged by white colonizers until a malevolent force appears on a mission to wipe the women out.
The art here is first-rate, with each page a colorful celebration swirling with bright magic and vivid ornamentation. And the story of a young woman struggling to figure out her future path while hearing calls from the past is deeply relatable. The action does get a little bogged down around the middle, with long scenes of dialogue that seem a bit off balance: readers may feel as though they’ve flipped a few more pages than necessary between significant turning points. Still, it’s a fine, thrilling adventure with a warm family-focused theme, suitable for young teens and up.
Rating: 🏵️🏵️🏵️🏵️ (4/5)
Writer: Aaron Durán. Illustrator: Sara Soler. Lettering: Jaime Martinez for AndWorld Designs. Editors: Shawna Gore, Desiree Rodriguez, Gabriel Granillo. Language consultant and sensitivity reader: Adriana Nodal-Tarafa. Design: Sarah Rockwell. Log: Leigh Luna.
Publisher: Oni Press.
(On sale January 11, 2023)

There’s something great happening in Black Cloak, I just wish I knew what it was. A genre-blender that mixes film-noir detective tropes with fantasy-magic in a sci-fi underground city with a bit of class critique, this new series throws some delicious ingredients into a blender but they don’t quite come together. The basics are all great: We start with a twisty whodunnit, focused on a team of magical sleuths called in to figure out who killed a royal figure who was slumming it with some sex workers over a dive bar. A trail of clues leads to a deadly lagoon, a hangout with some street toughs, and a glittering palace where one of our heroes has some unfinished family business.
That gumshoe stuff is great, and would be a fun romp whether the setting was this, 1940s Los Angeles, a space station, or a colony of field mice. But in order to work, we need a little orientation: What are the rules of this particular world? There are so many unfamiliar names thrown around and oblique references to unexplained procedures that it’s easy to feel a bit stranded.
An early example: the story begins with some close-up action involving a character throwing a punch and then sauntering away through a shop’s door; but because there’s no establishing shot, few wide shots, and several panels without backgrounds, it’s hard to tell if they’re walking into the shop or out of the shop.
To be clear, I liked this introduction to the series, I liked the interesting art style (a mix of cute and gritty), and I liked the characters with their complex secrets. Most of all, I liked the mystery. I just wish I could have focused on figuring out the murder along with the characters, rather than also having to figure out the basics of the world-building.
Rating: 🧜‍♀️🧜‍♀️🧜‍♀️🧜‍♀️ (4/5)
Writer: Kelly Thompson. Illustrator: Meredith McClaren. Also: Becca Carey. (The review copy of this book had no credits page, and no other contributors are listed online.)
Publisher: Image Comics.

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