Review by Ian Keogh
Greg Rucka, more than any other writer regularly producing comics, has an excellent track record writing natural and believable female protagonists. He took Rene Montoya for quite the head-trip across the DC universe, conceived an acclaimed run on Wonder Woman, and re-invented Batwoman. Then there’s Veil, Forever’s journey in Lazarus, Dex Parios in Stumptown… Hell, his first steps into comics were with Carrie Stetko in Whiteout.
We can now add Rowan Black to the list, with a narrative background differing from her predecessors. Her purpose is to guide us through a long form story, and this opening graphic novel barely begins to scratch the surface. Rowan is a witch, a member of coven, a lifestyle she combines with being a police officer. There are spells and ceremonies, but until the closing chapter this is very much window dressing for human drama. She’s fallible and uncertain at times, brave and capable, conflicted and targeted. The opening sequence very adroitly introduces her two worlds, seguing from a magical ceremony to a downtown hostage incident.
As drawn by Nicola Scott in her naturalistic style, everyone is impossibly attractive. Young or old, male or female, black or white, the entire cast looks as if they’ve stepped from a modelling catalogue. Even the denizens of hell. It’s extremely distracting and diminishes the sense of this being the real world. Technically, though, it’s excellent art, emotionally strong and with a rich repertoire of facial nuance. Choosing to illustrate the story in a grey wash with only the slightest touches of colour effectively institutes an other-worldliness.
The hostage situation has some odd repercussions, and is followed by the discovery of the corpse of someone prominent in one of Rowan’s previous cases. The sense of threat via coincidence is built up and increased as the story continues, and Rowan bounces well off her supporting cast. Rucka delivers these very well also, constructing the background of her partner via comments in the dialogue. Also unusual is that the dialogue carries the story. There are no narrative captions, so what we see and read is what we get. Is everyone telling the truth? We’ll find out. One section in German seems gratuitous, but don’t go rushing to an online translation service as it’s just small talk.
Throughout the book Rucka explicitly states that Rowan has become a target for un-named forces, yet their nature remains concealed until the final pages, and their purpose is yet unrevealed. It’s testament to his writing that such major issues are of secondary concern since Rucka’s already hooked you with his accomplished character study. Awakening II follows.