Pullbox Review: Dark Times, Dark Blood—Old Wounds Refuse to Scar Over in LaToya Morgan’s Haunting Debut!

Written By: LaToya Morgan

Illustrated By: Walt Barna

Colored By: A. H. G.

Letterered By: Andworld Design

Covers By: Valentine DeLandro, Marcus Williams, Juni Ba, Dan Mora, Mico Suayan, Javan Jordan, David Sanchez, Felix Icarus Morales, Karen Darboe, Ingrid Gala & Marco Rudy

Publisher: Boom! Studios

Available: July 21, 2021 (Today!!!)

Price: $3.99

What happens when a man his society is determined to suppress finds himself with power greater than any person on earth?

Alabama: summer, 1955. Segregated deep-south America soon, but not quite yet waking to a national civil rights movement. Despite fighting for freedom as a unified nation against fascist axis nations a mere decade before, racial divide and tensions are as high as they’ve ever been. Meanwhile, decorated WWII fighter pilot veteran Avery Aldridge just hopes to lead a quiet life, supporting his wife and daughter.

But nothing is ever so simple. Nothing is ever as it seems.

Now employed at a local diner, well-liked by his employer, he is a reserved, humble man. Walking home of a given night, he finds himself followed from work by an unidentified stranger. A white unidentified stranger. One with an Alabama-sized chip on his shoulder, who quickly makes clear he’s looking for Avery to knock that chip off.

Avery is no fool. Fair or not, right or not, just or not, this is not a fight he can win. He does his best to avoid it. He takes an alternate route home, stepping quickly and quietly, hoping to lose the man. He ducks his head down, initially ignores the man’s approach.

His accoster is determined. He will not stop, trailing Avery into a darkened alley. The man knows Avery, knows of his medals and his achievements. The honors and distinctions he earned in the War. And he will not have it. He will not have a Black man having it.

Pulling a pistol on Avery, the man threatens “Double A’s” very life.

A flashback, to the War. Avery’s plane has been hit by antiaircraft fire over Germany. Despite his rising panic, Aldridge is able to guide his craft to land, where he’s immediately captured. And made a subject of some vile Nazi experiment.

Back to the present.

And then…the Variance.

One moment, Avery Aldridge is simply looking to escape, to protect himself and get home. The next, his aggressor lies dead in the street, having run into the path of a car in terror from a man wielding power the world has never known.

To my knowledge, this is screenwriter LaToya Morgan’s (AMC’s The Walking Dead, Into the Badlands) debut attempt at comic scripting, though you’d never know it by reading Dark Blood. Clearly, her training as a screenwriter has served her well in transitioning to the comic medium: having trusted her sets and actors’ physicality to express as much or more than her words and thereby punctuating the power of her scripts when verbalized translates well to entrusting artist Walt Barna (lots more on him later) and the creative team in conveying mood, tone and action. Dialogue is minimal, and narrative even more so. What words she does employ hit their mark, immersing the reader into both the chaotic terror of piloting the skies above Nazi Germany in WWII as well as the barely-under-the-surface racial tension boiling into hate of the Deep South United States, circa the mid-1950’s (a time I wish we were further away from, chronologically and culturally). In issue one, Morgan sets up a fascinating premise: what does happen when a man whose larger culture insists should be powerless, gains more power than anyone? I’ll tell you this: based on her story so far, I certainly want to find out!

Walt Barna’s (The Osiris Path) art in this book is a revelation. Described in Boom!’s press material as a “rising star,” I’m thinking that moniker will quickly be a thing of the past. While his play with panel structure and perspective are visually appealing and add a great deal to the flow of the book, and the action sequences are extraordinary, it’s in the character’s (primarily Avery’s) expressions where Barna truly shines. Hitting the exact note of quiet dignity, then fear, then startled awareness as his previously-unknown powers emerge, the emotional intensity leaps from the page and sears itself into the reader’s mind. And this is to say nothing of his ability to capture the look and tone of the period and place, which he does effortlessly. Walt Barna is definitely an artist I’m going to track.

And Barna’s lines are well-aided by A.H.G.’s colors. Employing mostly slightly muted palettes reminiscent of the best golden-age books, you can’t help, in viewing it, but feel drawn into the mid-1950’s. Only, unlike the 1950’s, A.H.G. is able to employ a depth and variation of color within each palette that adds a powerful realism to each panel, drawing the reader in further. Seriously upper-shelf work.

As good as the art and writing might be, a comic fails if readers can’t read it, if the lettering is awkward or, even worse, boring. None of that to fear here: Andworld Design does their typical high-end work conveying Morgan’s spare words in Dark Blood.  While the narrative and dialogue are minimal, this doesn’t necessarily translate to an easy job for the letterer; if anything, it makes the placement and arrangement of what text there is that much more important and fraught with the danger of disrupting the book’s visual flow. Here, the letters provide not just a verbal guide, but an aide to the visual structure of the book, a perfect synergy of form and function.

All in all, an outstanding debut issue by a couple of relative new-comers to the comic medium: one that has me chomping at the bit for the coming story!

Dark Blood #1 (of 6) is available today at comic shops, via Amazon and digitally through ComiXology, with a wide variety of variant covers (though to my eye, I’m digging the standard cover by Valentine DeLandro). Get thee hence and get thee some, fair reader!

12/13

Review by Andy Patch

Contributing Editor

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