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Black Market #1

Created and Written by Frank J. Barbiere

Art by Victor Santos

Colors by Adam Metcalfe

Letters by Ed Dukeshire

Review by Joey Braccino

For the first few pages of Black Market #1, thought I’d be dealing with yet another drab post-modern cynical deconstruction of superheroicism. With the opening caption—“WHAT’S A HERO, REALLY?”—and the clichéd reversal (ironic, isn’t it?) in the first sequence of an ordinary citizen saving the superpowered hero, Frank J. Barbiere really drives for the hackneyed indie-superhero cold open. Then he introduces us to his hapless, really-down-on-his-luck protagonist, Ray and all of the terrible things going on his life: poverty, terrible job, sick wife, and a certain bitterness toward the superheroes flying about outside. By the time we got to the montage of superhero history on page 9, Barbiere had taken me through all the motions step-by-step-by-step.

Pulpy.

Pulpy.

And then he punched me in the face.

Semi-literally. I should have read the solicits.

Barbiere deftly sets up all the bromide elements of your standard Heroes & Villains superhero caper with a tinge of Bronze Age social realism before getting to the real concept that drives his new series, Black Market. I won’t give away too much from the second half of the book, but the title obviously gives a strong indication of just how Ray hopes to find a way out of his unsuccessful, impotent life. Barbiere’s deft handling of the Ray character as both a caring husband who will do anything to save his wife as well as a conflicted participant in his brother Denny’s “Black Market” machinations results in an enthralling debut issue. The final page reveal of the true nature of Denny’s plans is not exactly shocking, but promises a dramatic, traumatic, twisted story going forward.

Victor Santos’ pulpy realism plays perfectly into this sort of post-modern superhero comic. A veteran of Michael Avon Oeming and Bryan Glass’ Mice Templar, Santos brilliant layouts are dynamic and gritty and his figurework has the sort of classic cartoon-esque naturalism that you would have seen in the industry 30 years ago (and that’s making a serious comeback today!). Adam Metcalfe’s colors really shine in the backgrounds behind Santos foreground figures. Stark yellows and blues and burnt oranges fill the panel rather than detailed backdrops, allowing Metcalfe’s palette to really shine.

Verdict

Buy. A new series from BOOM! Studios, Black Market #1 is a shocking, promising new series that relies on an intriguing concept, clever subversion of hackneyed tropes, and stunning characterization rather than gore, sex, or violence. One of Barbiere’s most notable past works is the Five Ghosts series for Image. Similar in its clever, engaging post-modern treatment of otherwise clichéd tropes, Five Ghosts does for the Romantic, mystical adventure comics what Black Market does for the superhero narrative. And it looks amazing. Check it!

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