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Comic Book / Black Magick

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So mote it be

Black Magick is a creator-owned Image Comics series written by Greg Rucka (Lazarus, Queen and Country) and illustrated by Nicola Scott (Birds of Prey, Teen Titans). The first issue was published in October 2015, and Rucka has said there are roughly 30 issues planned out.

Rowan Black is a police detective in Portsmouth, a town in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. She's also a practicing Wiccan, though she keeps this fact private from her fellow officers. While taking part in her coven's Mabon ceremony, the ritual is interrupted by her Captain calling her in to deal with a hostage situation: A man has taken several people captive and is threatening to kill them unless he is allowed to speak to Rowan personally, but even after hearing his voice and talking to him, she has no idea who he is. The man agrees to release the hostages if Rowan will meet him face-to-face, but after the civilians leave, he reveals that he knows her "truename", and that he knows she is a witch, then attempts to set her aflame with kerosene and a lighter.

Rowan survives through the use of magic — her Wiccan nature is not just religious, but real — by turning the man's flames upon him instead. Fearing that the persecution of witches is starting again, particularly by an ancient enemy known as "Hammer" (Or "The Hammer"), Rowan and her coven seek to discover who it was that put up the man to kill her, and why.

Tropes featured in this series:

  • Action Girl: Rowan is a police detective and a witch with actual magical powers.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Rowan allows herself to be taken hostage in the first issue as a condition of all the other hostages being released.
  • Ambiguously Bi: The White Demon tempts Rowan with a vision of her and Morgan having sex, but in issue #13, she goes to bed with her new partner, who is a woman, and later actively pursues a romantic relationship with her.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: Multiple members of Rowan's family have been condemned as witches and executed by a group called Aira. Backmatter reveals that Aira is a witch-hunting organization that is religious in nature but exists outside the authority of the Catholic Church (and in fact has been around since the time of Plato, over 400 years before the Church was formed).
  • Arc Symbol: An organization which hunts witches (and whose history Rowan is very familiar with) uses a hammer as its symbol; their seal on the lighter used in the first issue visibly brings her up short and makes her realize that this is not an isolated case of insanity.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When 13-year-old Rowan argues that her executed ancestors only tried to do good, her mother responds "Did they?", which in-story would seem to indicate that they fell victim to using black magic.
  • Badass Biker: Rowan has the classic trappings, equipped with the motorcycle and leather accouterments.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: The end of issue #5 shows what seems to be a council of demons plotting something having to do with Rowan. Issue #11 makes it clear that they want Rowan to work for them.
  • Black Bra and Panties: Whenever Rowan is shown in her underwear, it's these.
  • Black Magic: The backmatter journals of a sixteenth century witch hunter discuss that magic itself is not inherently evil, and in fact his organization believes it is not their duty as witch hunters to kill any and all magic users. It is only those who have fallen to black magic, characterized by those who use magic to control other people, that need to be killed.
  • Blue-Collar Warlock: Rowan Black is police detective who rides a motorcycle. Her best friend Alex, who is also a witch, is a kindergarten teacher.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: The hostage-taker from the first issue was placed under a spell to kill Rowan, and begged her to help him before going through with it.
  • Break the Cutie: Issue #6 makes it clear this was what happened at Rowan's awakening. She was excited to fully become a witch and begin her training, but afterwards was tormented by the memories of her ancestors being persecuted and murdered. She began acting out in school, cut her hair raggedly short, and just as she was starting to come to terms with the experience, her mother was killed in a car crash.
  • Burn the Witch!:
  • By-the-Book Cop: Rowan balks at the mere suggestion of taking evidence from the police station, but goes through with it anyway because the police will not be able to use magic to learn from it.
  • Candlelit Bath: #7, Alex takes a candlelit bath as part of her healing ritual. (Although the layout of her bathroom and Alex's personality indicate this something she might enjoy doing anyway.)
  • Catapult Nightmare: In #10, Rowan is asleep in Alex's bed when she gets a psychic flash that a member of Aira has broken into her house. This causes her to sit bolt upright with a cry, waking Alex in the process.
  • Censor Steam: Censor bubbles obscure the 13 year old Rowan's form when she is submerged in the pool during the flashback in #6.
  • The Chosen One: How the demons view Rowan. She's the latest in the oldest known line of witches (stretching back six thousand generations) and they want her to use that power for their benefit.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: The demon known as Perfect threatens Alex until The White Demon puts her in her place. Even after this, she has no qualms about going behind The White Demon's back the moment she can.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: When Alex tries to use magic to learn who enspelled Rowan White, she is attacked in the spell by a reflection of herself (which is really a demon in disguise). Her attempts to fight it off barely slow it down, and only a last-minute intervention by Rowan saves her life. In issue #11, the same demon confronts Rowan and is able to treat her much the same way until Rowan gets pissed off.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The series is painted primarily in gray wash, except for isolated scenes of particular importance, particularly those used with magick itself.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: In issue #11, Rowan's anger allows her to tap into enough power (presumably for the first time) that she's able to banish a demon without a spell or enchanted weapon. The demon's lack of surprise suggests it expected this.
  • Disappeared Dad: Issue #6 shows Rowan living with her mom and grandmother, no father (or grandfather) in sight. Averted with Alex's father, who is one of the people taking part in Rowan's awakening ceremony.
  • Downer Ending:
    • Issue #6 - Rowan's awakening has left her depressed and constantly angry, and her mother dies in a car crash that was caused by a demon playing a long game.
    • Issue #11 - A demon confronts Rowan and asks Rowan to serve them, Rowan has tapped into new powers which worry her, and Morgan has asked their captain to split them up because he can't trust her any more.
  • Expy: Scott has said that Rowan's look is based on Joan Jett's early-1980's style.
  • Familiar: In issue #15, it's finally made clear that Rowan's cat Hawthorne is in fact a low-level demon, or a least a denizen of a demonic realm.
  • Feeling Their Age: Played with. Rowan's mother has reservations about Rowan's awakening because it becomes more traumatic with each generation (since there's more lives to experience), and once it's over, Artur Grey (Alex's father) notes that the Black family line is longer than any other.
  • Fighting from the Inside: The hostage taker from the first issue has been placed under a spell to kill Rowan, and while holding her at gunpoint he begs her to help him. Rowan is unable to help him, and kills him with his own fire when he tries to burn her alive.
  • First-Episode Twist: It is not until the climax of the first issue that Rowan is revealed to have actual magical powers.
  • Flashback Nightmare: Rowan's grandmother observes that even three months after her awakening, 13-year old Rowan still experiences these, and is worried because it didn't take her or Rowan's mother that long to regain their equilibrium.
  • Functional Magic: Of the "Rule Magic" style. Illustrated quite clearly in the first issue when the hostage-taker asks Rowan to help him; she tries and fails, because the spell compelling his actions is too strong for her to break on her own.
  • Gasoline Dousing: The man who tries to set fire to Rowan does so by tossing his Zippo into a pool of gasoline he has spread on the floor.
  • Gratuitous French: Back in the 1600's, Rowan's family name was "du Noir", which means "of the black". "The Black" is also the official name of Rowan's family line.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: In issue #8, J.P. Brandt is fleeing from Rowan and Morgan when he throws a bottle at Morgan that hits him in the head.
  • Hand-or-Object Underwear: Several of the object variety are used in issue #6 when 13-year old Rowan has to be immersed in a pool, naked, for her awakening. Scott uses colored bubbles in the water and strategically placed locks of hair to hide her nudity.
  • I Know Your True Name:
    • The hostage-taker's mention of Rowan's 'truename' in issue #1 is what first tells Rowan that he has some real connection to witchcraft and is not just insane.
    • Alex & Laurent's research manages to unearth the truename of a member of the council of demons, and Alex later banishes her with it. The White Demon later says it will take anywhere from 100 to 300 years for her to reincorporate.
  • Inconvenient Summons: Happens to Rowan when her cellphone rings in the middle of a ceremony.
    Alex: He now departs to the land of youth, through the gates of death, to dwell...
    *cellphone ringing*
    Alex:...Enthroned, the judge of gods, of women...
    *cellphone ringing*
    Alex: ...Of men, alright, who the hell forgot to turn off their fucking phone?
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Stepan, a German member of Aira, seems to have been traumatized by something that he witnessed earlier in his career. Several times, he has to be warned by his superior not to assume the worst about whatever might be happening in Portsmouth. In issue #13 he not only locks up Aira's librarian Anne-Marie, but steals a certain book from their collection before leaving, and in issue #16 kidnaps and attempts to kill Alex.
  • Karma Houdini: Discussed. 13-year old Rowan felt this way about the people who persecuted and murdered her ancestors. Her mother bluntly told her that just because Rowan didn't know they were punished in no way meant they weren't.
  • Long-Lived: Rowan's family tree shows several women who lived into their 80's or 90's during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which would have been quite a feat back then. One of them, Coira Black, lived to be 125.
  • Magic is Evil: Discussed and averted in the series. Even the witch hunters of Aira do not believe that magic is inherently evil, it is like a tool: its worth depends on how you use it. However, they do believe that Black Magic is seductive: All of their records (kept since the time of Plato) show that once a good magic user makes the first mistake of Black Magic, they will inevitably descend into villainy.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: One of the men in the coven is shown standing with his robe open like all the others, exposing his genitals. Stepan, an Aira member investigating the Portsmouth case, is shown getting out of the shower in his hotel room. Laurent is shown naked in issue #13 after he and Alex make love.
  • Married to the Job: Rowan at 33 is single and aside from her coven, hasn't been shown to have any interests outside police work. Her partner Morgan, presumably around the same age, is married with a new baby.
  • Meaningful Name: The unknown man in the first issue who attempts to set Rowan on fire is revealed in the later issues to be named Rowan White. This helps the other police understand the situation in their own frame of reference, since they figure he must have asked for Rowan specifically because of their name similarities, but Rowan and her coven realize that it is some kind of message.
  • Mistaken for Gay: In issue #8, Morgan is in a huff with Rowan because he thinks that Rowan and Alex are an item and that Rowan hasn't told him yet. This causes Rowan to burst out laughing. Given that she later goes to bed with a woman, this may be more related to just not having any romantic or sexual interest in Alex.
    Morgan: But seriously, Rowan, you've been acting weird since the Rowan White thing happened.
    Rowan: Specifically, when I watched a man immolate himself. Hmmm, wonder why that might throw me. How you got from that to me and Alex rubbing bits, I don't know.
  • Monochrome Past: Rowan's mother invokes this as a way to explain how Rowan will see the world differently once she has awakened as a full witch. It also serves to explain why only instances of magick are shown in color in the series itself.
    Mairead Black: Imagine if you lived your whole life in black and white, and the people you loved, you trusted, had told you what color was, that it existed... but all that could be to you was words... and then you opened your eyes, and the very first thing you saw was a rainbow...
  • Mundane Fantastic: The series opens with a Wiccan ceremony — which we later learn has real and direct magical importance — being interrupted by a cell phone call. The leaders of the circle in turn grumble about how much of a hassle it will be to redo all of the rituals and set-up before Rowan is called away for duty.
  • Never Hurt an Innocent: Backmatter of the first issue shows that, though Aira has no compunctions about hunting and executing people that use Black Magic, their members are taught that they cannot succumb to zealotry or paranoia: They have to make sure the witches they are executing are witches to be executed. They force themselves to watch the Catholic Church burn an innocent girl so that they know the risks of allowing themselves to convict an innocent.
  • Nude Nature Dance: Rowan's coven performs their rituals skyclad save for a hooded cloak. In issue #1, a ritual is interrupted by her mobile phone going off.
  • Office Romance: Rowan and her new partner Nichole, at least as of issue #15.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: When she realizes that the hostage taker in the first issue is going to try to burn her to death, Rowan casts a spell of protection on herself, looking quite angry about what he's forcing her to do (kill him to save her own life).
    Rowan: By my will, from my breath, the flame you strike shall bring your death.
  • Reality Warper: What Rowan has seemingly become, at least on a small scale, by the end of issue #16.
  • Reusable Lighter Toss: In issue #1, the man who tries to set fire to Rowan does so by tossing his Zippo into a pool of gasoline he spread on the floor.
  • Sadistic Choice: The White Demon inflicts one on Rowan in issue #16. Her new lover Nichole is being overcome by smoke inhalation from a house fire, while her oldest friend Alex is about to be killed by Stepan. The White Demon intentionally causes Rowan to be seriously injured so that she has to choose between dying or saving their lives by using her powers to warp reality. Ultimately, Rowan can't bear to lose either of them, so she chooses the second option, which of course was what The White Demon wanted all along: for Rowan to tempt herself with that kind of power.
  • Secret Relationship:
    • Alex and Laurent are in one by the time of issue #12, and they're both keeping it quiet for obvious reasons (she's a witch, he's the head of Aira).
    • Rowan and Nichole are in one by the time of issue #15, or at least in the beginning stages. They would obviously be seperated if it was found out, so they agree to keep it quiet.
  • Sensing You Are Outmatched: When Rowan and Alex are talking about the Rowan White case, Alex correctly notes that no one in their coven is capable of what was done to him. She finds out later just how right she is, when a spell to learn the truth nearly causes her death. After Rowan frees her, they both admit none of their family lines have ever experienced anything like what's happening. Makes sense, given that they're being manipulated by demons.
  • Shown Their Work: Rucka being Rucka, he did a great deal of research on traditional(Gardnerian) Wicca and lore pertaining to "witchcraft", and of course he's written stories about cops a few times before. Scott did a lot of research into Celtic rites and symbology, and designed Rowan's tattoos herself.
  • Sigil Spam: Implied. The organization which hunts witches uses a hammer as its symbol, and its mark on the lighter used in the first issue is what makes Rowan realize that this is not an isolated case of insanity.
  • Slowly Slipping Into Evil: Backmatter in the series includes a discussion on the change of a normal magic user into a Black Magic user, with Aira believing that they must be killed as soon as they start on the journey. When questioning whether or not there is some hope for redemption for those who have not yet turned very evil, the witch-hunter does research on all the cases of black magic they have from history and comes to a realization: Not all those who use magic fall into Black Magic, but all those who commit even the smallest of infractions do descend into villainy eventually. This is also what the council of demons are trying to do to Rowan.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": Backmatter in the series includes a sixteenth century witch-hunter discussing the merits and meaning behind calling their organization "Hammer" versus calling it "The Hammer". He seems to reflect that calling it "The Hammer" has an intrinsically aggressive meaning, and might lead to the organization becoming more prone to action.
  • Splash of Color: The book is painted in gray wash, but scenes that feature magical power are partially illustrated in color to showcase the "will working" aspect. Certain other bits (such as the candles at the Mabon ceremony) are colored as well.
  • Storyboarding the Apocalypse: Done by the White Demon to Rowan in issue #11. Among the other things it shows her are her and Morgan having sex (after it taunted Rowan by saying it knew she loves him) and Rowan murdering the Aira investigator Laurent.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: After the self-immolation at the end of the first issue, Rowan spends the following issues being questioned by Internal Affairs due to her involvements in a "police involved fatality". Even without suspecting the use of magic, she has to be formally cleared of wrongdoing after being involved in the death of a suspect. She later has to be interviewed by them again after killing a suspect who was firing his gun recklessly. They pop up again later, this time theorizing that Rowan killed a rapist and murderer who walked even though she and Morgan knew he was guilty.
  • Talking Animal: Issue #9 reveals that Rowan's black cat Hawthorne is able to speak telepathically.
  • Tears of Blood: Perfect, one of the demonic council, has these in issue #15 when she's lamenting that Ardat Lili was disincorporated by Alex.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Aira is a witch hunting organization that executes witches on their own authority, but they acknowledge that magic is not inherently evil and explicitly only target black magic users. Laurent, their senior investigator in Portsmouth, seems ready to give Rowan the benefit of the doubt to the extent that he willingly enters the home of another witch (Alex) to listen to her theory.
  • Wham Issue: Remember the book Stepan stole from the Aira archive in issue #13? Anne-Marie reveals in Issue #15 that it's the key to killing a witch and erasing their reincarnation cycle forever. Laurent scoffs that if Stepan tries to do that to Rowan he's as good as dead. Anne-Marie breaks it to him as gently as she can.
    Anne-Marie: Oh, you fool. Love makes you blind, child. He does not aim for the Black...he means to take the witch of the Grey.
  • When It All Began: Issue #6 is a one-shot that tells the story of Rowan becoming a full witch, how that affected her, and shows how long the council of demons shown in issue #5 have been manipulating her.
  • The Witch Hunter: Aira is a witch hunting organization which kills those guilty of abusing magical powers. Unlike most examples of the trope, they explicitly state that magic itself is not evil and it is not their goal to kill all magic users, rather it is their duty to kill those who have succumbed to Black Magic and used their powers to corrupt the minds of others.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: In issue #9, Alex shares the results of her scrying spell with Rowan. When Rowan sees that the ashes from the ritual formed Aira's sigil, she immediately blames them for what's going on, but Alex counters that the spell actually revealed Aira isn't involved, which Rowan angrily refuses to accept. All the events of the past week catch up to her and she breaks down before Alex can finish explaining, with Alex then convincing the mentally and physically exhausted Rowan to hit the hay.