Money is magic is power. The invisible influence of wealth changing hands is what makes the world go round and the use of that influence can create a communion with God. What happens, then, when the wealth stops flowing? From writer Jonathan Hickman, artist Tomm Coker, colourist Michael Garland and letterer Rus Wooton comes “The Black Monday Murders” #1 a murder mystery noir about the magic of money.
Read on for our full review of the first issues of “The Black Monday Murders”.
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Tomm Coker
ALL HAIL GOD MONEY! From JONATHAN HICKMAN (EAST OF WEST, Secret Wars, Avengers) and TOMM COKER (UNDYING LOVE) comes a new crypto-noir series about the power of dirty, filthy money… and exactly what kind of people you can buy with it. THE BLACK MONDAY MURDERS is classic occultism where the various schools of magic are actually clandestine banking cartels who control all of society: a secret world where vampire Russian oligarchs, Black popes, enchanted American aristocrats, and hitmen from the International Monetary Fund work together to keep ALL OF US in our proper place.
Jonathan Hickman is, perhaps more than any writer currently working in comics, something of an acquired taste. Working as writer and designer for his comics, he brings a style unlike any other to the printed page and brings a new meaning to the idea of comics being a marriage of words and pictures. While most writers leave most of the pictures side of that equation up to the artists they work with, Hickman brings a design element to his comics that creates a unique element to his storytelling. He’s gained something of a cult following because of his dense writing style and intricate narratives that require a level of deciphering thanks to the visual graphs and charts that hold much of his stories’ exposition. But with many cult writers, I wonder at what point Hickman’s writing tics begin to blend together.
“The Black Monday Murders” is Hickman’s latest project with Image, the publisher that really lets him stretch his wings and drop a $5 first issue that’s so big it has a contents page. It is many things, but at it’s heart is a noir murder mystery set against the backdrop of international investment banking with a twist of magical realism. If you’ve ever read “The Manhattan Projects” or “East Of West”, you pretty much know exactly what you’re going to get here and that’s partially the problem. “The Black Monday Murders” #1 is not a bad comic – it is in fact a very well made comic from very talented creators – but it is a comic that doesn’t feel particularly new if you’ve ever read a comic written by Jonathan Hickman before.
In the broad strokes, the setting and details are different, but many of the stylistic beats play out much the same. The characters are arch, speak in riddles with little context and seem to bury their personalities under layers upon layers of world-weariness and misanthropy. Oh, and there’s a lady who is coloured entirely white and speaks with dialogue balloons coloured black with white text. The staples of a Hickman story are all here and this should feel like his next big thing, but there’s also a sense that the boxes are all simply being ticked. After fifty pages of comic, there should be more of a lasting impression than the strange mix of subtle confusion and slight familiarity.
Like I said, though, it’s not as if it’s a bad comic. “The Black Monday Murders” #1 boasts a fantastic creative team who perfectly craft an aesthetic and stick to it throughout the entire book. Tomm Coker’s artwork is dark and beautifully atmospheric. The linework is thin and scratchy, like the world has been sculpted by these scratches of black ink on the page. The mix in the shading of thick inks, scratches of colour and ben-day dots gives the shadows a texture that helps nail that noir feeling. Giving the artwork a texture brings a depth to the page that is much needed because the storytelling is very structured and very static. Being a character-focus noir, this first issue is several scenes of people talking rooms which doesn’t exactly make for the most action-packed storytelling, but Coker makes up for by bringing so much depth to each panel. The way characters are positioned in each panel and especially the use of – or sometimes absence of – panel back grounds brings a keen sense of cinematography to the page.Continued below
An aspect of Coker’s work that really brings the style of the comic together is how heavily shadowed the faces of the characters are. Coker tends to emphasise the shadows of the face, lighting them from above so the shadows fall from their brow and over their eyes. The heavily inked shadows covering the eyes brings a mystique to each character, one that emphasises the cryptic dialogue of Hickman’s script and makes the obfuscated motivations all the more effective by literally hiding the faces of these characters from the reader’s interpretation. It’s a move that leaves the reader in the dark, but one that effectively communicates the dense and convoluted nature of the issue’s storytelling.
Being a noir, “The Black Monday Murders” is not exactly a colourful comic. Michael Garland’s palette is, as you might expect, fairly muted and utilises a lot of contrasting tones with the scenes focusing on the story’s de facto detective hero being light in burnt orange hues and the scenes following the cabalistic bankers being lit largely in blue tones with one final introduction cutting through those blue tones with violent reds. There’s nothing overly fancy about the colour palettes here other than damn good storytelling. Garland renders the violent murder scenes in warm colours, giving cool palettes to the scenes set in classrooms and cars, making the ordinary feel isolating while the violence feels welcoming and undercuts the true brutality of this comic’s world.
This puts “The Black Monday Murders” #1 in a strange place and me in an even stranger position. I don’t want to tell you I didn’t enjoy this comic because I did, but I also don’t know if I can recommend it. With more than a few of Hickman’s recent projects stopping and starting or simply disappearing all together (whatever did happen to “The Dying And The Dead”?) and “The Black Monday Murders” feeling so rigidly Hickman-esque, I don’t know if I can recommend this comic unless you’re such a die hard Hickman fan that you simply must read this in which case you’re mind is probably already made up. At a $5 entrance fee, this feels like a really well put together greatest hits album of Jonathan Hickman’s writing and design tricks, but the thing about greatest hits album is that the songs work best in the context of their original release.
Final Verdict – 7.8 – It would be criminal to rate it any lower because of the craftmanship on display, but I would recommend waiting this one out and returning when (or even if) it finishes.