Blackwood is a town with problems, and perhaps that’s why the college isn’t attracting the highest calibre of student. Everyone arriving there for the new term seems fractured in some respect, explained in some cases, others left mysterious. In addition to offering traditional college courses, those considered adept are trained in protecting themselves and humanity from occult threats, which is useful considering what plays out.

Evan Dorkin can’t really decide what he wants his gothic Harry Potter pastiche to be. It veers from comedy to horror, Scooby-Doo to H. P. Lovecraft’s squishy Elder Gods, throwing in bizarre scenes that work visually, but lack any real explanation other than that they’re magic. It’s as if his heart’s not really in Blackwood, it being an attempt to construct something commercial that he doesn’t really believe in. The strong points are the wildly differing cast and the occasional really creepy moment. What kind of nightmare did he dredge the monkey up from?

If Dorkin’s not on top form, Blackwood’s quality is considerably ramped up by the art. Veronica Fish really shines, defining the cast well emotionally and ensuring there’s a constant air of foreboding menace about the college and surroundings. Her character designs are especially impressive, with the abrasive Wren Valentine and the timid vice-chancellor Colby standing out. Andy Fish provides the layouts and also deserves credit for some strong visual images, the horrific elegance of the final page notable.

That’s preceded by a clumsy six page monologue explaining the reasoning behind much of what’s happened. “Blackwood was built on too many secrets. Not all of them were necessary. I know that now” hardly makes for a credible explanation from someone with centuries of experience. It leaves Blackwood as functional, but not inspirational. Dorkin has had better days and will again, while Fish ought to have a great career ahead of her.