Reading Pile: Manor Black TPB
While Cullen Bunn isn't always a home run for me, Bunn teamed with Brian Hurt or Tyler Crook is pretty much a guaranteed hit so having all three of them collaborate on one project feels like sort of perfect alchemical concoction of comic creation.
MB is a southern gothic horror story that drops you into a world of black magic with little to no explanation to the rules of the world. Instead it decides to focus on familial drama, a lone mage on the run, and a small unsuspecting town that's unprepared for the blood and violence looming over it.
The core arc follows Ari as her and a small group of allies are hunted down and picked off by dark forces with a penchant for setting people on fire. Ari only survives by the luck of stumbling across Roman Black, a patriarch to a family of sorcerers who decides to take Ari in against the wishes of his family. The two of them work together to stave off a cult like group that is attempting to harness the power of a fire totem.
The story takes a sort of lived-in approach, avoiding overly chatty lessons on how magic works and just simply accepts that it does so that we can get on with the action and horror. That could have come off messier, but the strong storytelling from all three creators attached to this project prevents this approach from feeling hollow or rushed. Just look to their previous collaborations on Sixth Gun and Harrow County (both favorite titles of mine) as perfect examples of their world building chops, highlighting their abilities to create an amazing sense of atmosphere and dread in their horror works.
You can feel that foundation being laid here as Bunn and crew place in little cornerstones of myth or the hint of background stakes waiting for their turn to shine down the line. There's also just a great balance between the pacing of the script and the strength of Crook's art that really comes together in building a cohesive tone and personality to this project that sucks you right in. Some of it is in the subtilties of character design (Roman Black is a man of few words, but his facial features and presence give him an instant weight in the narrative), while other elements such as the design of locations or the ugliness to some of the horror aspects just make the world pop.
Manor Black looks to follow the Dark Horse pattern of four issue mini-series chunks, with a two year gap between the release of this volume and the start of the new series. I can't really blame them because hey, 2020 and so on. That does mean that you don't have to hunt down a lot to catch up to the current run, and the single issues probably wouldn't be too hard to scrounge up. The trade is a solid package, but I will note that it clocks in at $19.99 for four issues worth of books that originally cost $16. It's not an overly fancy presentation either, but it does include some pinups and sketch pages so you do get extras.
I'm hoping that they can keep the momentum going and expand on this world and these characters on a more regular schedule. There's a lot to be unearthed about how the world works, but I also just really enjoy that they don't feel a need to drown us with historical exposition and instead they just decided to give us the world in progress. Plus, there just aren't enough southern gothic style comics on the market, so if you're down with that type of material do yourself a favor and check this series out.