“The future will always be dark . . . A blank page we fill with aspiration.”
These words greet the reader at the opening of Image’s new series Black Cloud. In one sense they serve as an introspective beginning, as a narrator muses on the nature of storytelling. A story and time are the same as each captivate through the unknown. Suspense over what occurs in the next chapter is no different than anxiety over what might happen on a new day. The best is hoped for, even as the worst is feared. Stories provide a framework for processing these feelings, giving shape to otherwise undefinable internal rumblings. This clash of cheer and dread is elegantly expressed through Ivan Brandon’s script. (Brandon co-plotted the book with Jason Latour). The idea is further elaborated through Greg Hinkle’s riveting artwork. The first page depicts a flame drifting across an empty space. Fire has many connotations ranging from inspiration to destruction, either of which could be gleamed from Hinkle’s atmospheric illustration. This dynamic continues as the perspective pulls back revealing a seemingly pre-historic group sitting around a campfire. The storyteller finishes his tale, slinking off in exasperation before being confronted with an enormous, menacing creature. Hinkle’s art captures the wonder of this moment while still conveying its terror. This ambiance is greatly aided by Matt Wilson’s stellar coloring which lends a crackling energy to the confrontation which follows. It is a deft mixture of idea and spectacle which immediately draws the reader into this new world.
After this brief prologue, however, the scene shifts to the more familiar scenery of affluent New York. Within the leisure class’ casual bustle, a young woman named Zelda is panhandling. Down on her luck and desperate, she steals a cellphone which allows her to make some business contacts and soon the scene shifts again. Now Zelda is cleaned up, delivering a utopian sales pitch to a group of jaded pretty young (rich) things. And then the setting alters again for something much more dreamlike.
One of the strengths of Black Cloud is its restless energy and perpetually changing rhythms. Even within a scene, it is rare for the pacing to stay the same for longer than a couple pages. However, Brandon’s script skillfully avoids disorientation, always providing just enough information for the reader to maintain their bearing despite the deepening mystery of Zelda’s past. Zelda herself makes a great thorough line (it was her voice providing the opening narration). She is a compelling character who at times displays a deep reserve of arrogant bravado. She is confidant, knowing when perky or aloof personas are more effective. At the same time, she has her vulnerabilities. Watching how these personality traits interact should be quite interesting.
The shifts in tone also allows Hinkle the freedom to display a wide range of artistic skills. His previous Image series Airboy was largely grounded with the occasional flight into fantasy. Black Cloud gives greater rein to his imagination as in the stellar opening sequence. Later sections of the book give him further opportunity to shape dreamlike landscapes. These places are filled with a population part human and part something quite other. As the issue continues these segments grow increasingly surreal until Hinkle is freely mixing styles, genres and time periods. Once again Wilson demonstrates his talent with a bright palette which truly pops off the page. As with Hinkle’s line art, Wilson’s contributions follow their own internal logic which boarders on psychedelic. At the same time, Hinkle and Wilson are equally capable of rendering the quieter moments of Zelda’s need. A scene of her sleeping under a bridge conveys poignant sparseness and subdued tones.
A debut issue is always a blank slate for its creators. This is especially true for creator owned books such as Black Cloud where, unlike with Big Two properties, there are no preexisting associations. Everything about the project has the potential to be fresh and exciting. As Zelda reflects, it is “a blank page we fill aspirations.” While the future remains dark for what succeeding issues of Black Cloud might offer, its present is quite bright. Its debut issue is a thrilling experience which leaves the reader eager to see how the story shall spin next.