Black Road title card

Black Road and Comics Structure

Black Road #1 cover

“Black Road” #5 brings the first story arc of the new Image Comics series to a close. Written by Brian Wood with art from Garry Brown, colors by Dave McCaig, and lettering by Steve Wands, the series is a Viking tale.

It’s touted as a “Magnus the Black Mystery,” though it’s hardly “Murder, She Wrote”.  There are questions in the story, but this doesn’t feel like a mystery.  This isn’t Magnus digging up clues and looking for the killer, or the thief or something.  The “Mystery” is more of a “What did I get myself into here?” kind of thing.

Magnus is a Viking who’s struck out on his own. He’s contracted to play bodyguard to a travelling cardinal on the Black Road, a scary and violent path that heads north.  “Black Road” is the story of that trip.  Things, of course, do not go according to plan, and the series becomes a fight for survival in many ways.  Magnus and the cast of characters that surround him are all guided by secrets from their past, which we get clued into along the way.

Magnus is a very likeable character.  He’s gruff, brutish, and mean.  But he has his reasons for all of that.  He just wants to be left alone.  He knows better, but nobody will listen to him. He almost never stood a chance in life.  He started as a soldier and followed things up after that along the same lines.  It’s a life he’s caught in, but one he’s also working at getting out of.  He lives by the Viking Code, which only complicates things for him.

He’s not your prototypical dynamic attractive heroic figure to be leading the book, but that’s half his charm.

I don’t want to spoil the story so far — and issue #5 has some big twists to it — but I do want to talk a little bit about how the story is structured and what that means for the delivery format.

Monthly Versus Trade

Black Road #5 cover

The thing that I find most interesting about this series is how beholden it is to the monthly serialized format. This is in no way a book that’s written for the trade.

First, it jumps around in time quite a bit.  The main story is in the here and now, but we keep cutting back to moments in the main characters’ lives at different points in the past.  Sometimes, the flashbacks only go back a few hours.  The transitions are obvious and easy to follow, but the book does wander around a bit from it.

Those time shifts are always for very good and specific reasons, though, so it all works.

Second, each issue ends.  When the next issue picks up, it’s never the next moment after the previous issue. There’s always a time jump to some degree.  The gap between issues #4 and #5 are relatively close, but you’ll see as you turn the pages just how much further the jump is than you might have originally thought.  Wood does such a great job setting things up at the end of the fourth issue to telegraph the fifth that the page turn surprise is twice as effective.

Each issue is a discrete item.  I read them all in relatively short order, but I still took breaks between most issues.  I think that’s to the series’ benefits.  “Black Road” demands to be read as parts in a series, not parts of a whole.  Although each issue isn’t its own complete story, it is a full issue that moves the characters from point A to point B.  So each issue feels right, but makes you want the next.

There’s a bit of a serialized thriller feeling to this.  You want to hang on the drama that’s teases you on the final page. You want to think about where this is headed, then be surprised when it takes a turn.

With all of the jumps in the timeline of the series, the book never feels very linear for very long.  For that reason, it’s not a book you should feel like you need to wait for the trade on to best comprehend it.  In fact, I’d argue that it’ll read better in installments, whether that’s monthly or daily, now that all the issues are out.  It’s fascinating to read a comic that feels that way in this day and age.  I liked it.

 

Cover Credits

black_road_2_400

The cover credits are fun to watch on this series. The names of the four members of the creative team rotate from issue to issue.  While it starts with the traditional writer/artist to start, by the third issue, they begin with the letter and colorist.  That’s one way to not leave anyone out.  Everyone gets their turn in the sun.  Pretty nice.

The trade paperback collection will be along in the coming weeks.  I like the book for the different time and place it takes place in, but also for the way the story is structured and the satisfying turns it takes along the way.

 


Click on that cover to buy the book on Amazon. It’s an affiliate link, so you’ll kick a few cents to this site along the way, with my thanks in advance.

2 Comments

  • Arcturus September 9, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    Sorry for off topic but I can’t find where to ask.
    Is there any way for you to add a bookdepository affiliate link. I want to help out but ordering form amzaon.com in Europe has really high shipping costs

    Reply
    • Augie September 9, 2016 at 4:21 pm

      I will look into it this weekend. (I see PayPal is an option to pay their affiliates with, so I’m liking them already.) Thanks for the pointer!

      Reply

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